By the mid-1640s Dutch artists such as Pieter van Laer and especially Jan Both exerted a strong influence on the young Paulus Potter and the example of both artists' work can clearly be seen in the present painting, which is dated 1644.
Pieter van Laer was possibly the single most important influence of Potter, and his 1636 print series of farm animals had an enormous impact on both Potter and his contemporaries, introducing new subjects and compositional elements. This, combined with Potter's remarkably descriptive portrayal of nature and rural life, seems to support Arnold Houbraken's claim that he often sketched outdoors in the meadows '...even when he could spare an hour to go out walking...he always had a notebook in his pocket, so that he could sketch anything pleasing that caught his eye which he could use in his work' (A. Houbraken, De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen, 1718-21, II, p. 129, quoted in A. Walsh, op. cit., p. 45).
The present painting, with its evening light shining from the left, casting long shadows, and the treatment of the trees and vegetation is strongly reminiscent of some of his earliest works, such as Landscape with Cows and Goats, in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich (Inv. no. W.A.F. 777). As is so often the case with Potter, one of the cows in the Munich Landscape has been repeated almost exactly in the Mellon Evans Flight into Egypt. The present painting is a transitional work in Potter's oeuvre painted at a time when he was assimilating the work of his newly-returned Dutch Italianate compatriots. As Amy Walsh (loc. cit.) points out 'In The Flight into Egypt, however, light also shines from behind the hill, casting softer shadows of the cow and trees standing on it. Backlighting diffuses the light, creating a remarkable atmosphere. Potter probably borrowed this technique from the work of Jan Both, who was known for the effects he created with his backlighting. Potter's interest in Both's work appears to be confirmed by the presence of the Holy Family in the right background. Both included this general motif in many of his works, such as his Landscape with travellers [formerly with P. de Boer, Amsterdam]. Under the influence of Both, Potter learned to suggest a continuous, almost tangible space by his skilful use of staffage, and took great care over the placement of figures at various points within the landscape'.