The Main Square in The Hague in the evening signed 'P. van Schendel' (lower right) oil on panel 65 x 85 cm. (25 1/2 x 33 1/2 in.)
Provenance: A.A. Weimar, The Hague, by 1840; Private Collection, Belgium.
After completing his studies at the Fine Arts Academy of Antwerp in 1828, van Schendel began to focus on genre painting with candles and lamplight, often in combination with evening market scenes, landscapes and moonlight. Within a very short time, he became the most important exponent of this style in the 19th century romantic period.
From 1828 to 1832 van Schendel divided his time between Breda and Amsterdam. In 1830 he married Elisabeth Grasveld (1807-1850) with whom he would have thirteen children.
By 1832 he had left for Rotterdam where he completed his first series of market scenes, where the sellers were shown offering local vegetables, poultry, fish and game, illuminated by candle and moonlight. These early works displayed a certain rigidity not evident in his later work. As van Schendel developed as an artist this began to be replaced by an altogether more precise technique. While many of his compositions were born of his own active imagination, he frequently chose a location he knew well, as with the present lot. In 1838 Van Schendel left Rotterdam for the The Hague. According to his friend and biographer Damien Sleeckx (1818-1901), his departure was due to the hazy air and polluted water that posed a threat to his health. (1) It was to be the next period of his career in which he would produce his finest work.
Between 1838-1845, while working in The Hague, van Schendel was to produce market scenes, far better than the later works executed in Brussels where he resided from 1845-1870. At this time, the artist and his family lived close to Varkenmarkt in Prinsegracht. (2) The main square was only a few minutes walk from his home and here he could observe the hustle of the daily market and the characters who passed through. These early observations would later evolve into these highly regarded evening scenes.
The present painting shows the main square. In the background we can see Schoolstraat, above the line of houses, on the opposite side of the market, the church of St Jacob is located and the historic building of the Boterwaag can be seen in the left corner of the main square.
A photograph of the square, taken in 2006, reveals that only the water pump has been removed and a few trees have grown, otherwise the square remains unchanged.
Fruit and vegetables from the west of the country were sold here as well as livestock on Mondays, and dairy produce and corn throughout the rest of the week.
From 1840-1857 Van Schendel kept an inventory of his paintings, providing us with an exact date of execution. (3) On 2 July 1840 he wrote started a market view in the evening with a meatstall in the foreground. He then noted the size of the panel, 65 x 85 cm. He also recorded that it was .... ordered by Mr Wijmar, (A.A. Weimar (1799-1878) was an art dealer in The Hague who bought much of his work.) (4)
On 9th July, Weimar also ordered a fishmonger by candles and moonlight, (71 by 63 cm.) A total price of 1200 Guilders was agreed for the two works. On 29th September van Schendel wrote in his inventory completed and delivered immediately a painting to Mr Weymar representing a market scene by candle light 65 x 85 cm. The 600 Guilders paid to the artist would have taken a professional carpenter, a bricklayer or a teacher approximately two years to earn. (5) The first market painting was delivered to Weimar on 2nd October, but according to van Schendel he thought it was worth 1000 Guilders.
The artist places a spaniel in the foreground of the composition. This device was a favourite motif of the 17th Century Leiden painters such as Gerard Dou (1613-1675), Jan Steen (1625-1679) and Frans van Mieris I (1635-1681). At this time the spaniel was particularly fashionable as a ladys companion and van Schendel has continued this tradition in placing the dog close to the charming servant who has just completed her days shopping.
van Schendel was a gifted story-teller, capturing the busy city life and the daily activities of the market. The butchers head is illuminated from behind by the radiant light of the oil-lamp to the right.
van Schendel stands alone in his ability to depict the atmosphere of a night market. His romantic town scenes had a significant impact on contemporary collectors, and are still highly prized today. We know of approximately one hundred scenes of vegetable markets and a similar number of fish markets, but our picture appears to be unique as it shows a meat market. We are therefore delighted to be able to offer such a work for sale that it not only unknown at auction, but maybe unique in the oeuvre of such an extarordinary artist.
1 Sleecks, Life scketchs by Mr Petrus van Schendel, painter, in : De Vlaemsche School. Tydschrift voor kunsten, letteren, wetenschappen, oudheidkunde en kunstnyverheid. Antwerp 1862, p.77. 2. Rijks Print cabinet Amsterdam, artists letters 143/ 161-168. 3 Inventaire des Tableaux exécuté et vendus de 1840 à 1857. Family collection Van Schendel. 4 A. Hoogenboom, De stand des kunstenaars. De positie van kunstschilders in Nederlans in the eerst helft van de negentiende eeuw. Leiden 1993, p. 202, 208. Jan M.M. de Meere, Nulla dies sine linea. Een vroeg schetsbook van Petrus van Schendel (1806-1870). The manuscript is not published yet, 2007, p. 13,14. 5. J.M.M. de Meere, Economische ontwikkeling en levensstandaard in Nederland gedurende de eerst helft van de negentiende eeuw. s-Gravenhage 1982, p.70-75.
We are grateful to Dr. Jan de Meere for his kind assistance in the preparation of this catalogue entry.