Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections
Paulus Potter died young, but during his short lifetime he was acclaimed for his skillful and detailed painting technique and his acute observation of peasant life. In this scene, which is typical of Potter's mature works, a farmer grooms his horse in a barn, while in the yard a mother suckles her infant as one peasant helps another mount a horse. Chickens and a dog also populate the barnyard, and grazing cattle are visible in the meadow beyond. The lighting of the painting is unusual; the distant meadow is suffused with sunlight, as is the horse in the stable, but the barnyard is blanketed in shadow. Potter's patrons would have understood this painting as a celebration of the prosperity of the Dutch countryside. The simple, rustic lives of the peasants, living in productive harmony with nature, was idealized by his contemporaries as virtuous and noble, and urban intellectuals viewed life in the country as happier, healthier, and more peaceful than life in the city. Katherine Crawford Luber, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 176.