Lot 6
  • 6

Jan Asselijn

300,000 - 400,000 GBP
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  • Jan Asselyn
  • The breach of the Sint Anthonisdijk on the night of 5–6 March 1651
  • dated and monogrammed lower right: 1651 / JA
  • oil on canvas


François Tronchin (1704–98), Geneva, by 1782;
Thence by descent until the late 1980s, when acquired by the present owner.


A.C. Steland-Stief, Jan Asselijn, Amsterdam 1971, pp. 82, 162, no. 227, reproduced plate LVI, and under no. 225.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Jan Asselijn. The Breach of the Anthonisdijk. 1651 His painting has a fairly recent stretcher and lining. The restoration could also be from a few decades ago. Much of the main lighter areas are in very good condition, such as the great spread of the water and the rushing lower waves. Also the splendid windswept group with cloaks billowing on the crest of the cliff at centre left. The darker clouds have been more worn in the past, with many little strengthening touches for instance in the pall of rain at lower centre right. Above in the sky on the right in between clouds there has been a short vertical scrape (about two and a half inches high) with thinner areas nearby also strengthened. Below by the top of the dyck on the right where a figure is calling for help there are also patches of retouching. The edges of the painting on all sides have had frequent retouchings, most widely at the centre of the top edge, with many along the base and at the dark left edge. However the evidently vulnerable darks are dramatically redeemed by the vividly intact lighter areas. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This is a rare painted record of a dramatic historical event, and one of very few mature works by Asselijn that are specifically set in his native land.
In the late winter of 1651, stormy weather and tidal surges caused extensive flooding in the Dutch province of North Holland, the areas exposed to the Diemerdijk east of Amsterdam being particularly affected. Finally, on the night of 5–6 March, strong north-westerly winds and a high spring tide caused the Sint Anthonisdijk to rupture in two places, flooding much of the city of Amsterdam. There were numerous eye-witness accounts of the tragedy, and as soon as the waters had subsided sufficiently, artists flooded out of Amsterdam and beyond to record the event. For example, Jan van Goyen made a number of rapid sketches on the spot in his 1651 sketchbook (see fig. 1),  which served as the basis for at least one painting, and Willem Schellinks also made a number of drawings of the event.   

For the Italianate painter Jan Asselijn, this most Dutch of subjects is a great rarity. As Ann-Charlotte Steland pointed out, it seems likely that he painted it on commission.1 Asselijn also painted the reconstruction of the Sint Anthonisdijk which took place in the summer of 1652, in a work in Berlin, although the two pictures are of different proportions and were probably not conceived as pendants.2 The Reconstruction is a rather more conventional painting by Asselijn, being bathed in a warm almost Italianate light and peopled by peasants familiar from his Bambocciate, although billowing clouds to the left allude to the disaster of the year before.

Whilst the present work is unpublished, two comparable works are known. In 1926, the Berlin Staatsgemäldesammlungen acquired a picture showing the same view of the breach of the Sint Anthonisdijk but with only two figures standing on the edge of the left bank. Steland-Steif believed it to be a copy after a lost Asselijn, or after an independent work by a mid-seventeenth century artist such as Ludolf Bakhuyzen.3 In addition, there is an engraving of the scene by J. J. Boissieu, dated 1782 and formerly in the Tronchin collection in Switzerland. The engraving was once believed to be after an unpublished painting by Asselijn, also in the Tronchin collection.4 The engraving does not include the boats in the distance. Taking into account that the present picture incorporates elements of both the Berlin work and the Boissieu engraving, which are not identical, it is very possible that this is the hitherto unpublished painting, known to have formerly been in the Tronchin collection, from which both the engraving and the Berlin work are derived.

The catalogue entry refers to two comparable works by Asselijn, but only mentions one of them: the picture in Berlin.  The omitted work is in Schwerin, Staatliche Gemäldegalerie (inv. 2697; oil on canvas, 55.5 by 76.5 cm.) see Steland-Stief, op. cit. pp. 82-3, 162, no. 225.  The Schwerin picture, which is not signed, depicts the same scene, but at a later stage in the disaster, so that the floodwater flows freely through the breach in the dyke without passing as a waterfall over the remains of the dyke, which by then had been completely washed away.  Furthermore, the storm clouds that dominate the right hand part of the present picture have blown away.

Given the stampede of Dutch artists making drawings of the disaster, one might have expected the Amsterdammer Asselijn to have visited the site to make drawings for subsequent use, but if he did, neither they, nor preparatory drawings done in the studio have survived. As Van Goyen’s drawing made in situ shows, Asselijn’s depiction of the breach in the dyke is not far-fetched, although he has exaggerated the height of the embankment somewhat. In particular, he has captured the visceral horror of the event, leaving the viewer in no doubt as to the vast volume of water that has thundered through the breach, hinting at the hazard that this natural outrage has caused.

We are very grateful to Dr. Ann-Charlotte Steland for confirming the attribution to Jan Asselijn on the basis of high quality images. 

1. A.C. Steland-Steif, Jan Asselijn, Amsterdam 1971, pp. 81–84.
2.  See A. C[hong], in P.C. Sutton, Masters of 17th Century Dutch Landscape Painting, exhibition catalogue, Boston 1987, pp. 252–53, cat. no. 4, reproduced plate 59.

3. Ibid., p. 82, cat. no. 333, reproduced.

4. Ibid., p. 82. cat. no. 227, reproduced.