Cornelis Springer (1815-1891) is one of the great Dutch masters of the Romatic period. Springer is the painter of sunlit facades, of richly ornamented decorations and of the nuances in the limestone; of the daily bustle in the city streets, with its tradesmen and kids running about. No wonder Cornelis Springer had this deep-rooted fascination for architecture and buildings, as he stemmed from a line of master-shriners and successful architects. Springer often chose to paint the 17th century neighbourhoods, almost as though he refused to accept the ongoing developements in tastes, trends and styles. Even the people and their attire look a tad bit old-fashioned.
Springer painted the city as she grew more beautiful with age, everywhere he could find it, from Zeeland to Friesland. Springer’s compositions are instantly recognizable; the strong interplay of lines and the striking perspectives, with the lighter parts that seem to lean against the walled sides. And then there’s the omnipresent sunlight. There’s that feeling one has, when walking through a historical part of a city, and the rays of the sun divert the glance to a certain detail. That is in fact what Springer does, albeit with the entire work. And he had this outstanding gift of beautifying the scenery, polishing its outlines. It is as though the viewer experiences the streets through Springer’s eyes; the materials are full of contrast and the colours have a velvety freshness about them.
Bustling city life in the St. Jansstraat in Haarlem wit the St. Bavo-Church in the background
Watercolour 58.4 x 46.5 cm
signed lower left and dated 1870
Often, Cornelis Springer did some plein-air sketching to use as a starting point for his paintings and watercolours. For this specific work, there are two know studies; one roughly executed in pencil and another more elaborate sketch with black crayon, both dating from 1868. For his compositions, he used stark diagonals and with this painting it is no different. Several elements of the Haarlem of the 19th century as Springer depicted it, are still in place.
Front right on the watercolour, there’s a gate visible; the Saint Barbara-gate or the Barbera Women’s Hospital, built in 1624, which was a property of a much older foundations, established in 1435. In 1841, the building became home to a school. The white sign on the facade reads ‘Bewaar en oefenschool voor jonge kinderen’. The white horse with the coat of arms in a blue medallion, situated in the painting above the white sign, is currently on that sign. The text has long since gone. Possibly, this building was known as ‘the white horse’, before there were any numbers on the houses. The stepped gables next to the gate have dissapeared, but the spout gable is still in place. Time since then has left its marks on the city’s skyline, and thus this painting provides, apart from being an aesthetic delight, valuable historical-topographical information.