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Kunsthandel Pieter A. Scheen, The Hague, inv.no. 7919, as: Stadsgezicht.
The Romantic cityscape, by Marieke van der Heijden
When French rule of the Netherlands ended at the beginning of the 19th century, the country came together in search of an individual identity, for a sense of nationhood. That sense nationhood was rediscovered in its glorious past, in the Golden Age. This period became the model for the present, and artists were inspired by the masters of the 17th century. The cityscape is a genre that was much pursued in the 17th century, and it flourished again in the 19th century. Chiefly the cities of Holland and daily life in those cities are depicted. Nostalgia for the 17th century and the picturesque cityscapes fit well with an international movement that also resounded in the Netherlands at that time: Romanticism.
According to the catalogue for The Masters of the Romantic Period exhibition in the Kunsthal in Rotterdam in 2005, Romanticism in the Netherlands was not as intense of character as in other countries, but had a much more moderate nature. Artists preferred intimate images filled out with small figures rather than giving expression to extreme emotions.
Cornelis Springer was an artist who primarily painted cityscapes, and until the fifties of the 19th century these were mostly imaginary cities. He composed his own romantic streets from different buildings of which he had made sketches. The sketches of the buildings were done not only in the Netherlands but also abroad, for example in Germany. This explains why some of the buildings do not appear to be Dutch. Entirely in keeping with the Romantic style, he also places ruined gateways, cracks in houses and holes in roofs in his compositions.
The works of Adrianus Eversen are strongly reminiscent of Springer, which is not surprising. Eversen was one of the few students that Springer took. He shows that he, like his teacher, is able to use light and shadow and an eye for detail to make an image interesting. The image can be placed geographically because in the shadow the tower of the Walenkerk in Haarlem can be recognized.
Petrus Gerardus Vertin was also a master of representing light. The ominous light above the monumental gateway in A busy day in a Dutch town in winter that dominates the left side of the picture and the light that yet falls into the street create a very special atmosphere in the image. Vertin manages to execute this in a very precise and smooth style. This same smooth style can also be seen in the work of his contemporary, Charles Leickert. Leickert typically prefers winter scenes, perhaps because of the atmosphere that the distinct light gives the image. The cityscape in winter was also a favourite theme of the artists Willem Koekoek and Johannes Franciscus Spohler. They also show the typical Dutch lanes covered with snow and populated with all kinds of figures.
Of course many churches are found in cityscapes, as they are often the most striking and picturesque landmarks in a city. In Going to the church, painted in 1832, the year of his death, Hendrik van Cranenburgh shows a church building under very striking pink light. The church is represented in very great detail. An artist such as Jan Jacob Schenkel follows in the footsteps of the seventeenth century masters with a church interior, which was also a genre that was much pursued in the Golden Age. He places the image in the seventeenth century by filling the interior with figures in historical costume.
In The Nieuwmarkt with The Waag, Amsterdam, Johannes Jacobus Antonius Hilverdink uses cool colours to show the area of the Waag in Amsterdam and the surrounding activities on a sunny day. The artists chose a recognizable location in the capital, which appealed to public taste then as it will now. The Hague painter Johannes Karel Christiaan Klinkenberg also worked in Amsterdam for a period. His realistic style and geographically correct representation of cityscapes meant that his work was popular in his time. The many studies that he made of a subject enabled him to represent reality very precisely. At the end of the 19th century his cityscapes may have been less romantic, but they were certainly not less loved by the public.
Marieke van der Heijden is the co-author of Dwars door de stad: C. Springer, G.H. Breitner, F. Arntzenius en het Negentiende Eeuwse stadgezicht, The Hague 2007.
Willem Laanstra, H.C. de Bruijn, J.H.A. Ringeling, Cornelis Springer (1817-1891), Utrecht 1984, cat.no. 38-3, p. 42, ill., as: Fantasiestadsgezicht (Utrecht?) met links een gotische kathedraal en rechts een huizengroep met een uitspanning. Op de achtergrond de Domtoren.