Jan van der Heyden had a remarkable ability to capture the flavor and feeling of Amsterdam, even in fancifully conceived images such as this one. He understood the sense of the city one gains by wandering along its canals: the glimpses of imposing buildings behind trees lining the Herengracht and Keizersgracht, and the countless activities found on the quays and on boats along the still waters. He also introduced marvelous effects of light that enliven a city so defined by its topography, including reflections in the water that mirror the physical reality above.
Quite remarkably, the massive, stone, church tower rising just beyond the brick dwellings is not an Amsterdam building at all. Van der Heyden based this tower on that of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk in Veere, and often inserted this formidable Romanesque structure into fancifully conceived city views. The massive, somewhat squat, stone structure makes an appealing visual contrast to the more refined, seventeenth-century dwellings that lined Amsterdam’s most prominent canals. The Romanesque church grounds the painting’s compositional structure, serving as a firm apex to the receding diagonal that draws the viewer’s eye, however slowly, into the distance along the canal banks.
Jan van der Heyden had a remarkable ability to capture the flavor and feeling of Amsterdam and its many canals, even in fancifully conceived images such as this one. He understood the sense of the city one gains by wandering along them: the glimpses of imposing buildings behind trees lining the Herengracht and Keizersgracht; the ever-varied vistas as the canals follow their semicircular course around the city center; and the countless activities found on the quays and on boats along the still waters. He also introduced marvelous effects of light that enliven a city so defined by its topography: billowing clouds that suggest the freshness of the air, bright sunlight accenting the colors and architectural details of the buildings, and reflections in the water that mirror the physical reality above.
The joy of this painting is the quiet rhythm of daily life in this urban setting. The linden trees lining the canals provide shade, greenery, and, most of all, a pleasant ambiance for those who stroll beneath them.
Helga Wagner, Jan van der Heyden, 1637–1712 (Amsterdam and Haarlem, 1971), 87-88, convincingly attributes the figures to Adriaen van de Velde, who, prior to his death in 1672, often painted staffage figures in Van der Heyden’s paintings.
Van der Heyden’s views of Amsterdam canals from the late 1660s and early 1670s often reflect the character of the city without portraying a particular site.
See Peter C. Sutton, Jan van der Heyden (1637–1712) (Greenwich, Conn., and Amsterdam, 2006), 140-141, no. 15.
As noted by Broos in Ben P. J. Broos, Great Dutch Paintings from America (The Hague and San Francisco, 1990), 281.
Quite remarkably, the massive stone church tower rising just beyond these brick dwellings is not an Amsterdam building at all. Van der Heyden based this tower on that of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk in Veere, a formidable Romanesque structure that Van der Heyden often ingeniously inserted into fancifully conceived city views
Helga Wagner, Jan van der Heyden, 1637–1712 (Amsterdam and Haarlem, 1971), 82-83, nos. 72-76. Sutton, in Peter C. Sutton, Jan van der Heyden (1637–1712) (Greenwich, Conn., and Amsterdam, 2006), 140-141, no. 15, identifies six other instances in which Van der Heyden depicted the church at Veere in his paintings. Five of these paintings place the church within Veere, albeit somewhat imaginatively, and one places it in an entirely fanciful construct. This is the only instance in which he incorporated it into a view that reflects the architectural character of Amsterdam.
Van der Heyden made a careful underdrawing for this composition, including the position of the boats. He may have worked out the perspective with the aid of a preliminary drawing, but none is known. Only one drawing by the artist still remains, a red chalk counterproof of the composition, in reverse, of The Oudezijds Voorburgwal and the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, c. 1670 (Mauritshuis, The Hague). The counterproof, which is in the Koninklijk Oudheidkundig Genootschap, Amsterdam, is discussed and illustrated by Ariane van Suchtelen in Ariane van Suchtelen and Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age (The Hague, 2008), 126-128.
One of the marvels of Van der Heyden’s paintings is the remarkably realistic character of his brickwork. A notable inventor (see his biography), Van der Heyden devised a way of depicting mortar so that it would appear to be part of the buildings’ structure. So remarkable was his manner of painting bricks and mortar that his contemporaries wondered about the secret technique he must have devised to create effects that “seem impossible with the customary ways of painting.”
Arnold Houbraken, De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, 3 vols. (The Hague, 1753; reprint, Amsterdam, 1980), 3:80 (“Waar omtrent men nu nog gelooft, dat hy een byzondere konstgreep, of middel heeft uitgevonden gehad, om dat het aan allen die het gebruik van ’t penceel kennen, onmogelyk schynt dat het op de gewone wyze van schilderen geschieden kan.”). The English translation is taken from Arie Wallert, “Refined Technique or Special Tricks: Painting Methods of Jan van der Heyden,” in Peter C. Sutton, Jan van der Heyden (1637–1712) (Greenwich, Conn., and Amsterdam, 2006), 92. Wallert’s excellent article provides much information about Van der Heyden’s working methods.
It is possible that Van der Heyden created his offset process by designing mortar patterns on separate supports. He may have painted these patterns on small pieces of paper or wood, or perhaps even etched them into copper plates.
Arie Wallert. “Refined Technique or Special Tricks: Painting Methods of Jan van der Heyden,” in Peter C. Sutton, Jan van der Heyden (1637–1712) (Greenwich, Conn., and Amsterdam, 2006), 98-99, suggests that Van der Heyden transferred the lines from an impression made on paper from an etched copper plate. Thus, he suggests that the lines are executed in ink, which does not seem to be the case.
See Ariane van Suchtelen in Ariane van Suchtelen and Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age (The Hague, 2008), 128, for a close analysis of the technique as it appears in Van der Heyden’s The Oudezijds Voorburgwal and the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, c. 1670, in the Mauritshuis, The Hague. The offset lines in that painting differ slightly from those in the Washington work. In the Mauritshuis landscape small globules of concentrated paint that formed along the “mortar” lines help to create the irregular character of real mortar.
There is no evidence that Van der Heyden reused the same offset mortar patterns in multiple areas of the painting; each seems to have been carefully designed for a specific location.
This technique, which has been found in a small number of Van der Heyden’s paintings dating from the late 1660s and early 1670s, was originally thought to provide a means for the artist to paint his brick patterns more quickly than if he executed them solely with a brush.
Van der Heyden probably used this technique more frequently than is currently recognized, as undoubtedly will be discovered as more of his paintings are examined with a microscope.
Van der Heyden’s inventiveness is not limited to his brickwork. Microscopic examination also raises the possibility that the artist stippled his foliage by dabbing on paint with moss or a sponge rather than with a brush.
Despite the well-deserved fame of Van der Heyden’s remarkably detailed techniques, his paintings ultimately succeed because he successfully integrated architecture and natural forms to create atmospheric scenes. He carefully recorded the reality of the world around him—whether it be the earthy bricks and mortar, the glimmering reflections of water, or the tips of branches flickering in the light of a summer’s day—and brought them to life in a subtly-crafted visual experience that speaks to very basic human emotions of peace and harmony.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower right on the boat, in ligature: IVH
Henry Fitzalan-Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk [1847-1917], by 1880; by inheritance to his son, Bernard Marmaduke Fitzalan-Howard, 16th Duke of Norfolk [1908-1975]; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 11 February 1938, no. 99); B. de Geus van den Heuvel [1886-1976], Nieuwersluis; (his estate sale, Sotheby Mak van Waay B.V. at Round Lutheran Church, Singel, Amsterdam, 26-27 April 1976, no. 23); (David Koetser, Zurich); private collection, West Berlin; on consignment with (Hoogsteder-Naumann, New York); purchased 1986 by George M. [1932-2001] and Linda H. Kaufman, Norfolk, Virginia; Kaufman Americana Foundation, Norfolk; gift 2012 to NGA.
- Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters, and by Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy, 1880, no. 76, as A Landscape and Buildings.
- Meesterwerken uit Vier Eeuwen, 1400-1800, Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1938-1939, no. 15, repro.
- Schilderijen uit de zeventiende, achttiende, negentiende en twintigste eeuw der nederlandse school uit de verzameling van B. de Geus van den Heuvel, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Schiedam, 1951-1952, no. 22a.
- Schilderijen der nederlandse- en franse school uit de verzameling van B. de Geus van den Heuvel, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum het Prinsenhof, Delft, 1952-1953, no. 35.
- Kunstschatten uit Nederlandse Verzamelingen, Museum Boymans, Rotterdam, 1955, no. 74, repro.
- Er was eens: ons land gezien door schilders in vroeger tijden, Stedelijk Museum het Prinsenhof, Delft, 1956, no. 164.
- Kunstbezit rondom Laren, 13de-20ste eeuw: schilderijen-beeldhouwwerken, N.H. Singer Museum, Laren, 1958, no. 102.
- Collectie B. de Geus-van den Heuvel, Gemeente Museum, Arnhem, 1960-1961, no. 23, repro.
- Holländische Malerei aus Berliner Privatbesitz, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, 1984-1985, no. 24, repro.
- Great Dutch Paintings from America, Mauritshuis, The Hague; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, 1990-1991, no. 31, repro., as An 'Amsterdam' Canal (shown only in The Hague)
- Jan van der Heyden (1637-1712), Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2006-2007, no. 16, repro., as An Imaginary Canal with the Church of Veere.
- Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age, Mauritshuis, The Hague; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2008-2009, no. 25, repro., as An Amsterdam Canal View with the Church of Veere.
The support is a single plank of vertically grained hardwood with a prominent grain. It was prepared with an extremely thin, white ground. The ground has oozed onto the edges of the painting, indicating that the panel retains its original dimensions.
Infrared reflectography at 1.0 to 2.5 microns shows a loose, freehand drawing marking the architecture, the boats, and some of the figures and trees.  The bell tower of the large church was drawn shorter than in the final version, and an additional boat is seen in the foreground to the left of center.
The composition was thinly painted with delicate impasto in the highlights and leaves. It appears as though Van der Heyden began by blocking in the various areas of the painting with color. Then he painted the details wet-over-dry on top of the blocked color, and continued adding the details wet-into-wet into one another. Van der Heyden used stippling to create the leaves. He may have made the bricks using some sort of printmaking technique because no brushwork is visible, nor do the lines taper in the manner typical of painted strokes (see this object’s entry).
The painting is in excellent condition. A few nicks are found at the edges of the panel, but it remains in plane, with no checks or splits. The ground and paint are stable and secure. An extremely fine craquelure pattern exists throughout, which may be limited to the varnish layer. The paint exhibits very fine shrinkage wrinkling, mostly in vertical lines in the sky. Some discreet, recent inpainting has been applied along the edges, in vertical lines along the wood grain in the sky and water, in the center tree branch where it extends onto the buildings, and in the upper tree branches along the left edge. The varnish is clear and even.
 Infrared reflectography was accomplished with a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with H, J, and K astronomy filters.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. 8 vols. Translated by Edward G. Hawke. London, 1907-1927: 8(1927):no. 305.
- Wagner, Helga. Jan van der Heyden, 1637-1712. Amsterdam and Haarlem, 1971: 83, 87-88, no. 91.
- Broos, Ben P. J., ed. Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat. Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The Hague and Zwolle, 1990: 280-284, no. 31, color repro. 282.
- Paul, Tanya, et al. Elegance and Refinement: The still-life paintings of Willem van Aelst. Exh. cat. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 2012: 42, fig. 6.