Lot 188
  • 188

Jan van der Heyden Gorinchem 1637 - 1712 Amsterdam

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Jan van der Heyden
  • a capriccio canal view
  • bears numbering in pencil, top left: V27a, and inscription, lower right: Jan van der Heyden
    pen and brown ink and watercolour, over black chalk


Window mounted. Lightly foxed overall. A few light brown spots, centre. Colours good and fresh. Sold in a modern frame.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

One of the mysteries surrounding the artistic output of Jan van der Heyden has always been the fact that, although he was reasonably prolific as a painter, only a handful of his drawings survive, and they are almost all studies relating to his great 1690 publication on fire-fighting, the Beschryving der nieuwelijks uitgevonden en geoctrojeerde slang-brand-spuiten en hare wijze van brandbussen1 (the subject of a fascinating recent exhibition at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). 

The one very important exception to this is a view of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam, executed in watercolour over pen and ink, which is in the Van Eeghen Collection at the Gemeentearchief Amsterdam.2 That watercolour can be connected with two paintings by Van der Heyden of the same view and, as Dr. Bert Gerlagh of the Gemeentearchief has kindly confirmed, having examined both drawings in the original, it is totally comparable to the present work in technique and handling.  The major difference, though, is that the Amsterdam drawing is a real, topographical view, whereas the present work is a capriccio, combining buildings that never existed with others loosely based on real Amsterdam edifices, into a composition that seems at first convincing as a classic 17th-century view on the Herengracht or one of Amsterdam’s other main canals, but is in fact a total fantasy.  The invented nature of the view is further highlighted by the striking pentimento in the church building just to the right of the ruined church apse: initially, the artist planned to give this building a tall spire, but the preliminary sketch that he made of that structure was subsequently erased, and in the end he chose to depict it with the squat tower seen in the final composition.

Capricci of this type comprise an important part of Van der Heyden’s painted oeuvre: although many of his pictures are very faithful topographical representations of the structures of Amsterdam and other cities, other paintings combine and adapt real buildings in just the way we see here, using the Dutch townscapes that he observed as a reservoir of motifs for imaginary compositions in a way that was extremely unusual in Dutch art of this time.  Many painters slightly exaggerated the perspective in the views they depicted, or introduced minor picturesque compositional elements, but few if any other than Van der Heyden made such totally invented “Dutch” views.  Amongst Van der Heyden’s followers and imitators of later generations, this cavalier approach to topographical accuracy was even more unusual, and almost all the painters and draughtsmen who represented Amsterdam canal views during the later 17th and 18th centuries were extremely literal in their depictions, rarely moving a single tree, let alone an entire building.         

Ultimately, although the attribution of this drawing to Van der Heyden might at first seem surprising, the close relationship with the pictorial approach seen in the artist’s paintings, and also the link with the very comparable watercolour in the Amsterdam Gemeentearchief, show that this must indeed be a remarkable example of a drawn capriccio by the great master of Dutch view painting.

1. A drawing for this publication was sold, New York, Sotheby’s, 25 January 2002, lot 44

2. See B. Bakker et al., De verzameling Van Eeghen, Amsterdamse tekeningen 1600-1950, Zwolle 1988,  pp. 99-101, cat. no. 39, reproduced in colour p. 89