Together with Isaak Ouwater, Hendrik Keun continued the rich Dutch tradition of townscape painting brought to flowering in the previous century by Jan van der Heyden and Gerrit Berckheyde. His paintings are rare. Born in Haarlem but active in Amsterdam for most of his career, Keun specialized in painting topographical views in a meticulous and almost graphic style, most of them depicting sites in Amsterdam or Haarlem and its environs. Three examples, all Amsterdam subjects, are preserved in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Painted on a panel consisting of a single sheet of mahogany, this painting is arguably Keun's masterpiece. The painting offers a lively view of the Plantage Middenlaan. The broad avenue, lined with majestic trees, recedes towards the newly rebuilt Muiderpoort, which in 1771 replaced the previous gate that had collapsed two years prior. The Plantage Middenlaan is the main street of the so-called Plantage area, the neighbourhood that was added to Amsterdam as part of the city's fourth large expansion. When the city council could not find enough buyers to develop the new plots, it was decided that, instead of building houses, the land would be available for pleasure gardens and orchards where the citizens of Amsterdam could pass their leisure time amidst the beautiful green scenery.
The present scene constitutes a rare historical document preserving the prospect of a beautiful location in one of the most Edenic parts of Amsterdam. Replete with anecdotal detail it gives a faithful account of the atmosphere on a Sunday afternoon. On the road an orphan, recognisable by his black and red dress, and his dog run in the beholder's direction, followed by a pair of horsemen. On the left we see a fashionably dressed couple strolling. A carriage with a female passenger, preceded by a Dalmatian, turns off the main road. A little boy is riding in his cart pulled by goats (a blokkenwagen). A particularly amusing detail is the nurse holding a small child with a protective cap on its head by its leading string, and teaching it to walk.
Judged by the artist's inscription, the actual subject of this view is Vlietsorg. There were in fact two places called Vlietsorg in this area, but the relevant house and garden are visible on the left, just past the corner house in the immediate foreground to the left. The complex consisted of two lots of land with a garden, a house, a stable, a coach house, an octagonal gaming house and various, other wooden structures. 1
The owner of Vlietsorg at the time of the painting, was the wealthy merchant George Hendrik Matthes (1709-1790). It is certain Matthes commissioned the present painting from Keun as it was still in his family by the early 20th Century. Matthes was a merchant, trading with the West Indies. He may be identified as the Matthes who ran a plantation, probably a sugar or coffee plantation, called the Garden of Eden in Demerara, a historical region in the Guianas on the north coast of South America, nowadays part of the country of Guyana. Guyana was a Dutch colony until 1815. The beautiful, single sheet of mahogany, on which Keun painted the present lot, may well have been a present given by a business acquaintance to Matthes, send along with trading goods, as was not unusual at the time.
In 1911 his descendant Dirk van Lankeren Matthes bought the house on Oranje Nassaulaan 5 in Amsterdam, and had the painting incorporated into the panelling of his dining room. In 1921 he sold this house, including Keun's painting, to the grandfather of the present owners.
1 This description is largely based on a research report by Monique A.F. Peters of the Stadsarchief Amsterdam, dated April 2007.