Cornelis Springer, the greatest Dutch architectural painter of the 19th Century, grew up in a family of architects and building contractors in Amsterdam. Initially Springer painted town views which followed the contemporary trend of idealising the past and Dutch national heritage. From the early 1850’s onwards Springer abandoned the fantasized element in his architecture and concentrated on existing topographical locations, following an increasing interest in topographically accurate subjects. 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 and from 1852 he recorded all the sales of his paintings and watercolours. This preparatory material clearly illustrated how the artist developed this 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.
The present lot is a fine example of Springer’s realistic representation of a city. Here he has depicted the picturesque Sint Olofskapel (Saint Olof’s chapel), also known as the Oudezijds Kapel, situated at the beginning of the Zeedijk in Amsterdam, near the Damrak. The original Sint Olofskapel was built between 1440 and 1450, making it the oldest chapel in Amsterdam. Vincent van Gogh attended services in the chapel multiple times and he considered the little neighbourhood around the church a "very nice part of the city" that reminded him of central London.
The wooden façade opposite the chapel belongs to one of the oldest, still existing, wooden houses in Amsterdam, called ‘t Aepjen (the monkey). Built between 1546 and 1550 this used to be a well-known tavern in the 16th and 17th century for sailors. According to an old saying the tavern received his name when the owner of ‘t Aepjen asked one of his guests to bring back a monkey from the East Indies in order to settle a debt. Other sailors started to fulfill their debts with bringing back monkeys from their travels. As these monkeys were full of fleas which were transmitted to the guests, someone who scratched his head back then was said to have spent the night in ‘t Aepjen. The Dutch expression ‘je bent in de aap gelogeerd’ (you spent the night in the monkey) is still being used, meaning that you are in trouble.
Springer has combined the topographical accuracy with figures dressed in 17th century attire, creating the appearance of Amsterdam in the Golden Age. One of the figures to the left is said to be Springer’s wife, Geertruij ten Cate (1812–1902).
Displayed are all the qualities for which Springer is so admired: his stunningly realistic representation of architecture, the masterful play of strongly contrasting light and shadow, a detailed depiction of the historical gables and the variety of townspeople going about their daily business are enlightened by subtle, diffuse light. These elements are brought together in a well-engineered and balanced composition, clearly illustrating the great virtuosity of the artist.