The present lot depicts the sunlit Old City Hall on the Groenmarkt in The Hague painted in 1867 when Springer had already discovered his mature painterly style. Displayed are all the qualities for which Springer is so admired: his stunningly realistic representation of architecture and architectural surfaces, the masterful play of strongly contrasting light and shadow, detailed depiction of the historical gables and the lively, imaginative staffage enlightened by subtle, diffuse light. These elements are brought together in a well-engineered, balanced composition, clearly illustrating the great virtuosity of the artist. This elegant building and beautiful tower with a variety of townspeople going about their daily business are set in an almost golden luminosity.
Springer travelled extensively in Holland, Germany and Belgium, producing detailed architectural sketches which formed the basis for his compositions. Although he lived in Amsterdam, he travelled around to draw city views in which city halls play an important part, like in the present lot. Their architectural glory referring to the heydays of the 17th Century inspired Springer immensely. The Old City Hall was built in the 16th Century and its facade decorated with attractive sculptures by the famous Hague sculptor Jean Baptist Xavery (1697-1742) inspired Springer for numerous works during his lifetime. In 1859 he painted The City Hall of The Hague (see: Laanstra, 1984, no. 59.6, panel, 50 x 40 cm.) and a watercolour with the same composition now in the collection of the Teylers Museum (see: Laanstra, 1984, no. 59-A-1). In the present lot - painted eight years later - Springer again emphasised the brightly illuminated rich building at the left side, but he chose for a more balanced composition in which he enriched the right side of the work with more architecture, a tree and numerous colourful figures.
The beautifully decorated Renaissance style build Old City Hall was in the middle of The Hague, near the Grote Kerk. It was the former seat of the city's government for more than 400 years and is nowadays the place where residents can hold their civic wedding ceremonies and where the Dutch Royal family register their family births. The picturesque town hall was built in 1565 (and restored and enlarged in 1882) and contains a historical picture gallery. The building was considered very large and imposing in its day; just after it was built in 1566 the Italian merchant and historian Lodovico Guicciardini (Florence 1521-1589 Antwerp) referred to The Hague as 'the most beautiful, richest, and biggest village of Europe'. This sounds like great praise, but The Hague was not a walled town and therefore Guicciardini categorized it with the villages. For a village the city hall must have seemed quite grand. The fact that The Hague was thus vulnerable to attack makes it all the more amazing that the old City Hall survived the Protestant Revolution without damage to older ornaments and windows. In 1733-1739 the famous The Hague based French architect Daniel Marot elongated the building at the left side of the tower. He was assisted by Jean Baptist Xavery who made the sculptural group Gerechtigheid en Voorzichtigheid around 1742 on the facade, depicting 'Faith', 'Hope', 'Love', 'Strength', and 'Justice', also clearly visible in the present lot.
Cornelis Springer grew up in a family of architects and building contractors in Amsterdam. His brother Hendrik taught him the art of architectural drawing and the principles of perspective at an early age, which was to shape his favourite subject matter: the townscape. Inspired by the earlier Dutch 17th and 18th Century town view painters such as Jan van der Heyden (1637-1712), Gerrit Berckheyde (1638-1698) and Isaac Ouwater (1750-1793), Springer received tuition from the celebrated artist Kaspar Karsen (1810-1896) who also specialised in architectural painting. From the 1850's onwards Springer had reached such fame that he only worked on commission for private collectors and dealers. A waiting list of two years in this period bears testimony to the great popularity of his work. A patron would choose a composition on the basis of his drawings. Springer was a diligent worker who carefully recorded his studio activities. His notebooks reveal exactly how many days he worked on a particular painting and even in which part of the day he worked on it. From 1852 onwards he recorded all the sales of his paintings and watercolours. This preparatory material clearly illustrates how the artist developed his theme: after drawing a sketch on location, he subsequently executed a black and white chalk drawing in his studio with the measurements intended for his final oil painting.