watercolour heightened with white
Private collection, the Netherlands
M. de Haan, M. van der Heijden, A. Nazarian, Dwars door de stad. C. Springer, G.H. Breitner, F. Arntzenius en het negentiende eeuwse stadsgezicht, The Hague 2007, illustrated on the cover of the book and illustrated on p. 74
Floris Arntzenius acquired his greatest fame with his lively street scenes of The Hague, the city were he spent almost his entire career. After completing his studies at the Amsterdam Academy (1883-1888) and the Academy of Antwerp (1888-1889), Artnzenius first moved to Amsterdam. From 1892 onwards he lived in The Hague, where he became particularly fascinated by the crowded streets in the centre of the city, where the painter's studio was located.
The present lot, depicting a lively view of the Spuistraat, is one of the finest examples of the artist's unique ability to merge the atmospheric, subdued art of the Hague School with the modern urban subjects favoured by their Amsterdam counterpart, the so-called 'Tachtigers'-movement. In that respect Arntzenius' work is closely related to the urban Impressionism of Isaac Israels and George Hendrik Breitner, artists he knew well.
The present lot is a great example of Arntzenius' mature style and actually one of the very best watercolours he ever painted. As often, he portrayed the Spuistraat on a greyish, rainy day, with the facades and promenading people reflected in the glistening, wet pavement of the street. Despite the subdued colouring - definitely in tune with the Hague School - the watercolour impresses by its clarity and fresh, original colouring. In that sense this watercolour is preserved wonderfully.
In every respect, this watercolour is a great example of the artist's skills as a painter of fleeting impressions. Like Isaac Israels, Arntzenius regarded the streets as his open air studio. 'What fascinated him', a critic wrote, 'is the rhythm of the windows, the facades, the signboards and the movement of the passing people. But above all he aimed at depicting atmospheric effects, the sense of the city in the evening, in the fog, with sunny weather or just after the rain'.
The artist frequently depicted himself and it's a tempting thought to recognize him in the man with the moustache and bolder head in the centre. This is fully in tune with how the artist saw himself: not just a sharp observer, but equally a participant, for whom the city-life became a life-long source of inspiration.
The location of the present watercolour - the Spuistraat near the tobacco shop of A. Smit - recurs in his work more often. The artist used to rent a window from which he worked. He explained this working method as follows: 'Whenever I discover a nice street or canal, I look around to find a window I can rent. Sitting in the street or on a canal is impossible, with all the people watching you. Behind the window you can sit quietly'.
'Hij houdt van woelige drukte en geeft daarvan de volle sensatie. Als hij zijn kans schoon ziet, verschanst hij zich op een stil plekje voor een venster van een onbewoond huis en maakt dan zijn schets van de drukte en het gewirwar van menschen en huizensilhouetten in vlugge, geestige toetsen' (quoted from P.A. Haaxman Jr, 'Floris Arntzenius', Elsevier's Geïllustreerd Maanschrift 1903, p. 165)
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