Berchem was the son of the distinguished still-life painter Claesz. He entered the Haarlem artists’ guild, and his early works are Dutch landscapes. In 1650 the artist travelled with Ruisdael near to the German border. Stylistically, looking at his landscapes from about 1653, his Italianate settings suggest travel to that country, probably in the 1640s. Berchem distinguished himself as an active draughtsman and etcher, as well as a painter of Italianate landscapes, the earliest works suggesting that he was looking at what artists who did travel to Italy, such as Van Laer, Both and Asselijn, had done. Asselijn and Pynacker influenced the artist’s mature works. Berchem collaborated in pictures by Ruisdael, Hobbema, Hackaert, and Weenix.
The lighting and saturated colours in his Italianate landscapes recall the works of Both that can be seen in our collection. In Berchem’s mature masterworks from the period, such as this panel, the figures are attenuated and become more elegant in their poses, despite their humble status. Nonetheless, the artist does not neglect charming little details. A difficulty with the small black goat crossing the ford at the lower centre of the composition is the focus of attention of the two women and the bemused drovers. Skilfully, through the highlights of red, blue and yellow, the artist draws the viewer’s eye diagonally into the distance, while to the left ancient Italian edifices emerge from the early morning or late afternoon mist.