National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 3 (II:1), 1964

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Notes on an Eighteenth-Century Dutch Painting

by William A. Blom, Research Curator

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In this unusually quiet View of the West Church at Amsterdam, van der Heyden shows a wall with an arched gateway surrounding the church. This wall does not appear in Ouwater's painting. Instead, it shows two handsome doorways, one of which, on the left, had presumably not yet been built in van der Heyden's time. The merchant's house to the right of the church appears in both paintings, but its clean and neat appearance would suggest that it had undergone restoration shortly before Ouwater painted it. The guard-house on the left in Ouwater's painting is obscured by trees in van der Heyden's view. The trees in Ouwater's painting are fairly young and some of those shown in van der Heyden's painting must have been removed, opening vistas of the fine houses on the Prinsengracht beyond either side of the church. Along the stone parapet of the canal in Ouwater's painting there is a railing which is not present in van der Heyden's view. The foreground of van der Heyden's painting clearly indicates the curve in the canal. The figures are carefully placed and move freely within the architectural background, and supply the rather lively highlighting in the foreground. A prosperous stroller, accompanied by a youth with his dog and a Negro servant, seem to set the leisurely and peaceful atmosphere of this view. Ouwater hardly indicates the curve of the canal, the treatment of the foreground tends to be flat, and the figures blend with the background.

Ouwater's strict observation betrays little emotion. His meticulous graphic approach contrasts with that of van der Heyden who, also using a most carefully considered style, displays greater depth, warmth of feeling, and a very graceful use of sunlight effect. Despite there being no trace of imitation in the light and crystalline touch of Ouwater, it is obvious that his inspiration came from the seventeenth century .The pleasing quality of Ouwater's overall rendering and, in particular, the luminosity of the sky, cannot be denied.

Ouwater's contemporaries, amongst whom were Jean de Beyer (1703-1785), Jan Ekels (1724-1781), Hendrik Pothoven (1725-1795), Hendrik Keun (1738-1788), who was an imitator of van der Heyden, and Reinier Vinkeles (1741-1816), are characterized by their direct study and strict observation of nature. It is in their work that the foundation was laid for the academic realism that was to predominate in nineteenth century Dutch painting. There is often great stylistic similarity amongst these painters, and Ouwater perhaps comes closest to men like Jan Ekels and especially Hendrik Pothoven. Pothoven was a portraitist of some merit but his best work is to be found in the interiors and views of The Hague. His painting of The Family Stadtholder Willem V visiting the Fair in the Outer Court, in the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague (Fig. 3), illustrates the similarity in style when compared to Ouwater's rendering of The Outer Court at The Hague, in the same museum (Fig. 4).

The work of Isaak Ouwater and his contemporaries reflects a restricted vision, a preoccupation with refined picturesqueness, and the portrayal of detail for its own sake. In spite of these limitations we are irresistably drawn to the inherent charm of eighteenth century Dutch painting.

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