Jan Weissenbruch: The Steigerpoort at Leerdam (1837), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Steigerpoort at Leerdam by Jan Weissenbruch

In the early 19th century the once great tradition of Dutch painting was dead and buried. There were no great masters to be found in the Netherlands any more. There was only one art academy left in the entire country and those who taught there were French. It is therefore most remarkable that during the 19th century the tradition of Dutch painting was revived to such an extent that one could speak of a second golden age.
One of the artists who initiated this rebirth was Jan Weissenbruch (1822 – 1880). In the 1840's, together with several friends and relatives, he founded an academy for art in the Hague called the Pulchri Studio (named after the Latin word for beauty 'pulchritudo'). This studio attracted and trained a group of artists who several decades later would be known collectively as the Hague School.
Jan Weissenbruch was one of the first 19th century painters to rediscover Dutch Golden Age art. He began to create paintings that could be seen as a homage to the idealized Dutch landscape and city views that had been the speciality of such 17th century masters as Salomon van Ruydael, Gerrit Berckheyde and Johannes Vermeer.
Although Jan Weissenbruch's representations of Dutch cities seem highly realistic, they are not. Weissenbruch created an idealized version of a Holland that was vanishing, or had never even existed. This can clearly be seen in one of his masterpieces, the view of the Steigerpoort at Leerdam (1869). Up to the the mid-19th century almost every Dutch city had been surrounded by city gates. But because of urbanization and the advance of railways (and a sheer lack of historical perspective), almost all of these gates were demolished. It seems that Jan Weissenbruch set himself the task to paint as many gates as possible before they vanished. City gates appear in dozens of his painting. Yet it seems Weissenbruch was not particularly interested in leaving accurate memories for posterity, for he changed elements at will until he had created his ideal combination of shapes, mass and shadows. In this case he even flipped the city gate around – so that the shooting holes face the city – to suit his purposes.
(Edgar Foley)


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