Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819-91), Canal à Rotterdam, 1873
Rotterdam, Historisch Museum Rotterdam
This summer, the Historical Museum Rotterdam stages the exhibition Masterpieces to show off the richness of its collection of paintings. The finest 85 works have been selected from over 1100 items. The oldest painting on display dates back to 1608, made in a period when Rotterdam developed into the second merchant town in the Dutch Republic. The most recent one was put on canvas in 1937, three years before the aerial bombing attack of 14 May 1940 almost completely destroyed Rotterdam’s city centre. The visitor is invited to stroll along Rotterdam pictorial highlights from the past centuries in the attractive period rooms of the age-old Schielandshuis.
Night scenes and still lives
The exhibition opens with two typically Rotterdam 17th-century specialties: night scenes – such at Village fire at night by Egbert van der Poel – and still lives in barn interiors. At the time, these genres were very popular with a broad public in Rotterdam. The exhibition combines these paintings with market scenes in Rotterdam, such as Great Market Square at night by Cornelis Snellinck. This work shows an abundant display of fruit, with the famous statue of Erasmus watching in the background.
Thriving business for painters
In a prospering merchant town like 17th- and 18th-century Rotterdam, there is great demand for various genres. The landscapes, sea- and river views from those days still make an awe-inspiring impression. Nice examples are an enormous Rhine river view with splendid panorama by Gerrit Battem and an atmospheric beach scene by Simon de Vlieger. Other subject matter is found in the work of Adriaen van der Werff. This master in fijnschilderkunst – an elaborate, detailed and polished manner of painting – was very successful. In the course of his career he produced portraits, intimately illuminated interiors, as well as classicist scenes.
The collection of paintings includes over 300 town views. Favourite locations in old Rotterdam are ‘Water town’, the town gates, the surroundings of St. Lawrence’s Church, and the prospect of the town from river Maas. In the course of the 19th century Rotterdam exerts great attraction on painters from home and abroad. Dominique de Bast, Pierre Justin Ouvrié and Cornelis Springer capture Rotterdam not long before it develops into a modern industrial port. The best example from this period is Canal à Rotterdam by Johan Bartold Jongkind, one of the originators of impressionism.
The exhibition features portraits of famous Rotterdam citizens as well, such as the early 17th-century portrait of the Rotterdam Pensionary Hugo de Groot by Michiel van Mierevelt. Portraits of lesser-known or even fully unknown individuals are also on show, witness the enormous portrait of a young lady seated at a virginal by the Rotterdam painter Ludolf de Jongh.