The present lot depicts a location in the old centre of Amsterdam: the Zwanenburgwal and the entrance to the Joden Houttuinen, seen from the waters of the Oude Schans at the Sint Antoniesluis. Except for the house on the extreme left of the work the situation no longer exists as such today. Amsterdam never ceased to inspire Willem Witsen, especially the locations in the old centre of the city like the Oude Schans, Kromme Waal, Binnenkant, Prins Hendrikkade and Uilenburg: "een geweldig brok Amsterdam, iets dat je nergens anders zou kunnen vinden - iets ook, dat nooit gemaakt is, - 'k bedoel dingen waarin 't eigen karakter van Amsterdam is uitgedrukt." (see: I.M. de Groot et al., Willem Witsen 1860-1923, Bussum, 2003, pp. 32-33).
Witsen chose to look at his subject from the water. Exposed to the elements he rowed his boat through the canals (op.cit., p. 95). Winter in Amsterdam held a special fascination for the artist, while most of his boat trips were made in spring, summer and autumn (see: J.F. Heijbroek, 'standpunt Damrak, Amsterdam 1905', Kunstschrift no. 1, 2003, p. 18). Witsen preferred to leave the house at the break of dawn, to capture the atmosphere of the still and quiet city devoid of bustling daily activities in the early morning light: "Van morgen was 'k an vijf uur op en om half zes op 't water - Er was een wolk dauw boven 't water, dat heelemaal in toon lag met de schepen maar daarboven de daken van oude huisjes, de toren met de hooge boomen er omheen belicht door de zon aan den horizont; en 'n puur blauw, heel teer, fijn blauw luchtje, zoo fijn! Dat probeer 'k te schilderen; of liever om er de materialen voor te verzamelen, want 't schilderij of de teekening moet 'k natuurlijk op 't atelier maken." (see: De Groot, op.cit., p. 95).
Out on the water Witsen made quick sketches and studies, sometimes indicating colour and atmosphere to remember after returning to the studio. He often produced several versions of a particular view, using various techniques. However, it is unknown in which technique he began working first: watercolours, paintings or etchings. The present view of Joden Houttuinen was executed as a painting and at least twice in watercolour (see: N. van Harpen, Willem Witsen, Amsterdam 1924, p. 30, no. 16; Anon. Sale, Mak van Waay, 16 June 1925, lot 44 and the present lot). According to Witsen's well-kept diary he started working on the etching on March 1905 (op.cit., p. 216). The Van Wisseling archives mention the present lot under number T1780. The entry shows Witsen brought it to E.J. van Wisselingh & Co in 1905, which suggests it was executed in 1905 as well. The painting can be dated 1906.
Witsen's watercolours were especially appreciated by the public. Following the Van Wisselingh exhibition in 1895 only a few paintings were sold every year, while the watercolours were increasingly in demand (see: J.F. Heijbroek et al., Portret van een kunsthandel, Amsterdam, 1999, p. 114). The appreciation by the public of Witsen's watercolours has not waned ever since.
We wish to thank J.F. Heijbroek for his help in cataloguing this lot.