Members of the Hague School, like Mauve, cousin and Professor of Van Gogh, saw themselves as heirs to the rich tradition now known as Dutch Golden Age painting, a term describing the artistic production that developed shortly after the Netherlands achieved political independence as a republic, during the period spanning the seventeenth century. Art historians characterize this movement as a rejection of the splendour of Baroque style in favour of naturalism, or realistic rendition. Artists working at that time explored a variety of subjects, which included still lifes, genre scenes, and landscapes.
In the nineteenth century, artists across Europe emulated Dutch Golden Age painting in technique and subject matter. However, simultaneous with Dutch landscape painters being influenced by the Barbizon School, the French Realists were increasingly drawn to—and imitated—the north’s landscape tradition. Mauve’s predilection for pastoral themes thus results from both the revival of interest in seventeenth-century Dutch painting and French Realism. Distinct from his predecessors and contemporaries, Mauve distinguished himself by his adept ability to render not only landscapes, but also sheep, a subject that met with great success in the North American art market.