Cornelis Springer, the greatest Dutch architectural painter of the 19th century, grew up in a family of architects and building contractors in Amsterdam. His brother Hendrik taught him the art of architectural drawing at an early age. Inspired by his tutor Kaspar Karsen (1810-1896) from whom he received lessons from 1835 until 1837, Springer initially painted fantasy town views which followed the contemporary trend of idealising the past and recreating a national heritage. From the early 1850's onwards, Springer abandoned the fantasy element in his work and concentrated on existing topographical locations, following an increasing interest in topographical accuracy from collectors at the time.
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. During his many travels through Holland, Germany and Belgium, he would produce detailed architectural sketches which formed the basis for his compositions. 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. To this 'composition-study', the artist added figures and adapted the architectural details according to his fancy.
From the 1850's onwards Springer had reached such fame that he only worked on commission for private collectors and art dealers. A waitinglist of two years in this period was testimony to the great popularity of his work. A patron would choose a composition on the basis of the sketches, after which Springer would paint the version in oil. He had a preference for certain sizes, often using panels or canvasses measuring 50 x 41 cm. and 31 x 41 cm. From his notebooks it can be concluded that he spent an average of twenty days to finalise a painting of this size. In the year of execution of the present lot for instance, Springer produced fourteen paintings and watercolours.
At the height of his career in the 1860's, Springer was especially inspired by the small harbour town of Enkhuizen. This town features most frequently in his work after the town views of his native Amsterdam. Enkhuizen, a quiet town on the shores of what used to be the Zuiderzee, had lost nothing of its architectural glory in spite of its economic decline since the hayday of the 17th century. Springer frequently visited the town and its neighbouring village of Hoorn in the 1860s and 1870s and was impressed by its charming historical atmosphere. Springer's first visits to Enkhuizen date from 1864 and 1865, resulting in a series of 16 pencil drawings which are kept in the collection of the Technical University, Delft (photographs recorded at the R.K.D., The Hague). One of these drawings forms the basis of the composition of the present lot. In comparing the finalised oil version with the drawing, the small liberties that Springer took to dramatise the final composition are visible: the houses in the foreground are brought closer to the church, a stone lion has been added on top of the gable of the house in the foreground, the chimney on the right has become taller and a roof window has been inserted in the roof of the gateway on the left. Instead of the closed doors in the gateway, which are visible in the drawing, Springer has opened up the gateway, thus allowing for a stronger sense of depth and perspective.
It is not unusual for a Paris-based firm like Goupil & Cie. to have acquired the present lot directly from the artist: from the early 1860's onwards, due to increasing international recognition and demand for his work abroad, Springer sold paintings to international art dealers like Van der Donckt in Brussels, J.D. Dreyer in Bremen and H. Koekkoek Jun. in London. Goupil acquired various works with the subject of Enkhuizen in the late 1860's, clearly admiring the special qualities of this theme.
The present lot shows all the artistic and technical skills that Springer is famous for: the masterfull play of strongly contrasting light and shadow, the detailed depiction of the historical gables, the abundance of architectural details and the lively, imaginative staffage, with two children leading the eye into the depths of the composition. Its presence at auction is a rare occassion, as this painting has never before been offered on the open art market. Since it was acquired from the art dealer Goupil in 1867 by a forefather of the present owner, it has remained with the same family up to the present day.