Aelbert Cuyp lived and worked in Dordrecht all his life and was considered to be one of the most important Dutch landscape painters of the seventeenth century. During the eighteenth century he was admired as a second Claude Lorrain because of the fine treatment of light in his paintings, which had a golden sheen that sometimes reminded the viewer of the South. Cuyp created a considerable number of drawings whose motifs are not necessarily linked to paintings. The Städel Museum owns a large group of important sheets by him, among which the 'Landscape near Dordrecht' occupies a particularly prominent position.
To the extent that Cuyp's drawings are not of specific buildings or townscapes, they show nature in the form of expansive panoramas or other views which emphasise the space. Here, however, a picturesque oak tree in the foreground plays an unusual main role. Apparently struck by lightning, its trunk is split open, and yet the tree is not dead, for thrusting their way upwards on all sides are young shoots, and the single remaining branch seems determined to renew the lost life force all the more emphatically. Spreading out behind this protagonist, which has been positioned right at the front edge, is a flat, gaunt and possibly pre-springlike Dutch landscape. On the distant horizon we can make out the silhouette of Dordrecht. Cuyp's landscapes draw their content from the mood and the composition. Here, however, in the case of the split-open oak tree, one cannot rule out a symbolic or metaphorical meaning.
Cuyp's drawing technique - with which he combined various devices, emphasised the black in the foreground by treating it with gum arabic and contrasting it with a pale graphite, and, in the background, developed a restrained colour scheme which nonetheless created a sense of depth - is so multi-layered that this is certainly no study or preliminary drawing but an autonomous artwork. Cuyp's drawings are often difficult to date, but this sheet can be classified among a group of sheets produced during the early 1640s.