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Deeds of glory, acts of God

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Adriaan de Lelie (1755- 1820), the main figures, and Egbert van Drielst (1745-1818), the rest of the painting
General Daendels taking leave in Maarssen of Lieutenant-Colonel C.R. T. Kraijenhoff, whom he was despatching to Amsterdam to help depose the city government, 18 January 1795. Signed and dated E. van Drielst pinx. A. de Lelie A° 1795. On the back of the panel is a manuscript dated 1834 explaining the subject. Panel, 45 × 60 cm.

Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv.nr.A 2231. Purchased in 1906 from the Nagel family, Arnhem.

Colonel Kraijenhoff was the military member of the Batavian Revolutionary Committee, a body of Patriots which was helping the French army to overthrow Stadholder Willem v in order to establish a Batavian Republic. After the French took Utrecht, Kraijenhoff was sent to Amsterdam on his own by the revolutionary general H.W. Daendels from Maarssen, between Utrecht and Amsterdam. He arrived in the city in French uniform and demanded the resignation of the town council. Although the French had not deposed the Utrecht council, the Amsterdamers capitulated and turned the city – the last bastion of the 216-year-old United Republic – over to Kraijenhoff. That night the Stadholder fled the country.

The reason why Adriaan de Lelie painted not the happenings in Amsterdam, but those in Maarssen, may be sought in the circumstances of the presumable commission by the Nagel family. The young man behind Daendels, on the right, was Jan Nagel Jr., who was also being sent to Amsterdam by the general, but via another route. Had Kraijenhoff been detained underway, it may have been up to Jan Nagel to bring down the curtain on the United Republic. For 111 years, until the Nagels sold the painting to the Rijksmuseum, it served them as a conversation piece of the 'What if...' variety. The mixture of homeliness and heroics in the painting corresponds well to the mood of the great but anti-climactic day itself.

The choice of Adriaan de Lelie for the commission was undoubtedly guided by considerations of revolutionary politics. De Lelie was one of the most prominent members of the Amsterdam artistic and philosophical society Felix Meritis, which was a gathering place for Patriot conspirators before the events of January 18th. He collaborated on several occasions with Egbert van Drielst, a decorative landscape painter who must have been considered a good Patriot as well: in 1799 he was paid 1,596 guilders for the restoration of paintings for the Museum of the Batavian Republic in The Hague, a job which would not have gone to anyone who had shown Orangist sympathies before 1795.

NNBW, vol. 1, col.752. Niemeijer 1968, cat.nr.2. Schama 1977, pp. 188-190.

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