Rowlandson visited the Low Countries in 1792 and again, perhaps, in 1793; the war with France made travel increasingly difficult after that. This large-scale finished watercolour of 1794 was presumably executed back in London. It shows the Place de Mer or Meir, important from the 16th Century onwards on account of the proximity of the Stock Exchange. The market cross and the church of the Carmelites on the left were demolished by the French in 1797. On the right is the Huideuettersstraat.
This is one of three companion views, all engraved and published by Ackermann in 1797. The others show Fishmarket at Amsterdam (see Hayes, op. cit., p. 154, no. 90, illustrated) and the Stadhuis, Amsterdam. There are two other, unsigned versions of the present composition; one sold in these Rooms, London, 21 November 1978, lot 41, and the other is in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. The present version, Hayes suggests, probably belonged to Matthew Michell, a banker and Rowlandson's companion on his tour of the Low Countries. Hayes describes Michell as a portly bon viveur with an apparently insatiable appetite for Rowlandson's drawings and was one of the artist's closest friends from the 1790s to 1819, (op. cit., p. 20), who came to replace Wigstead in his affections after the latter's death in 1800. Michell divided his time between his houses in the Strand, at Enfield, north London and his country estate, Hengar in Cornwall. He was rich and enormously hospitable and Rowlandson was a frequent visitor at all three houses.