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This minimalist interior view of the Nieuwe Kerk in Haarlem is an extremely rare work by Pieter Saenredam to come on the market.
Pieter Jansz. Saenredam (Assendelft 1597–1665 Haarlem)
Interior View of the Nieuwe Kerk, Haarlem, Seen from the South-West, ca. 1658
oil on panel
12 x 12 1⁄4 inches
30.5 x 31 cm

This spare and elegant painting of the Nieuwe Kerk, or New Church, in Harlem is a characteristic work by Pieter Saenredam. It is the only painting of a church interior by Saenredam to have appeared on the market in more than thirty years, aside from two other interior views which were both undercatalogued at the time of their sale. Signed and dated to 1658, the present painting carries a provenance going back to the 18th century and most recently belonged to the celebrated collection of Pieter and Olga Dreesman, who owned the biggest chain of Dutch departmental stores.

Pieter Saenredam, Interior of Saint Bavo, Haarlem, 1628, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
the artist

A pioneer in architectural views

Emerging out of a long Dutch tradition of church painting, Pieter Saenredam can be considered the first painter concerned exclusively with actual architectural views. His emphasis on light, geometry, and the essential architecture is evident—especially on such small format paintings.

Similar to the rediscovery of Johannes Vermeer, Saenredam – albeit a celebrated artist in his own day – was not widely collected until the twentieth century. Major American institutions began purchasing his works beginning with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1948, Worcester Art Museum in 1951, The National Gallery of Art, D.C. in 1961, the Getty Museum in 1985 and the Kimbell Art Museum in 1986.

Interior of the Niewe Kerk, to the West, April 1982. Photo by Gerard Dukker, Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed
Exterior view of the Niewe Kerk, with tower seen from the North side, Photo by Gerard Dukker, 1964, Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed
Pieter Saenredam, The Interior of the Nieuwe or St Annakerk in Haarlem, Seen from West to East, 1652 © Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem
the church

Four views of the Nieuwe Kerk, Haarlem

The Nieuwe Kerk was the only modern building that Saenredam depicted and is thus the only church he painted built of Classical rather than Gothic or Romanesque style. The church was built to the design of Saenredam’s friend Jacob van Campen between 1646 and 1649 on the site of the medieval chapel of St. Anne. In typical Reformed protestant fashion, van Campen’s plan is austere and devoid of religious imagery and elaborate decoration. Saenredam underlines the understated qualities of the architecture with his restrained gray, white, blue and terracotta palette, punctuated only by a pair of figures in crisp black and white clothing for sale, and the brightly colored coats-of- arms in the window.

Pieter Saenredam, Interior View of the Nieuwe Kerk, Haarlem, 1653 © Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

Saenredam’s earliest composition of the Nieuwe Kerk, dated 23rd May 1652, depicts the interior seen from west to east taken from just north of the center line and is now in the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem. In 1653, he completed a second composition showing the interior from the southwest corner of the transept looking north (Budapest, Szépmüvészeti Muzeum). The third painting of the Nieuwe Kerk shows its interior looking west from the east side of the south aisle. It is dated to 1655 and is on loan from the Stichting Oudheidkamer Riessen to the Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Eschede. The present work, dated 1658, is the last of known painting of this series. Walter Liedtke has convincingly argued that these two later compositions show the church seen from the same vantage point (“the observer half-sitting against the base of the central pilaster on the eastern wall of the southeast corner” W. Liedtke, op. cit., p. 149). Further, when the two paintings are placed side by side, they form a continuous panorama of the western half of the church. Liedtke states that the two panels were not designed as pendants; their different sizes, formats, and dates make this unlikely. The reasonable explanation for the correspondence in perspective and in subject is that the two paintings were based upon halves of a single lost sketch.

Pieter Saenredam, Interior of the Nieuwe Kerk in Haarlem, 1655, oil on panel, 44 x 35.9 cm. Stichting Oudheidkamer Riessen to the Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede
The present panel, ca. 1658, 30.5 x 31 cm. private collection
View of the Interior of the Nieuwe Kerk, Haarlem, Seen from the East End of the North Aisle Looking West, Pieter Jansz. Saenredam, 1650 © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam RP-T-1902-A-4568
Saenredam’s working method

Sketches and construction drawings

Saenredam’s quasi scientific process began with numerous sketches that he signed and dated. He then used these sketches, often years later, to create so-called construction drawings, which he blackened on the verso and traced on to panels. Often his constructions drawings did not survive the process of transfer to the panel and it is understandable that neither corresponding Nieuwe Kerk construction drawing appears to have survived.

Pieter Jansz. Saenredam, View of the Nave of the Nieuwe Kerk, Haarlem, Looking West, 1650 © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam RP-T-1890-A-2343
Pieter Jansz. Saenredam, Interior of the Nieuwe Kerk of Haarlem, 1650 © The Morgan Library and Museum, New York. Thaw Collection.

Saenredam’s sketches of the Nieuwe Kerk suggest that he varied not only the content of his architectural scenes but the actual positioning and vantage points. In the present composition Saendredam includes a column that was never actually completed but was included in van Campen’s design. As Liedke writes “one feels that the painter explored the church from every possible angle in a search for potential paintings, while at the same time the methodical progress of his sketches (placing himself at corresponding intervals along each of the four walls over a period of some ten days) suggests that he desired a complete pictorial inventory of the new building.” However, in the final painted composition, Saenredam concentrates less on the specific appearance of the architecture than on its character. A feeling which he puts forth through altering scale (i.e. reducing the size of figures), muting color, and simplifying geometric systems. (W. Liedtke, op. cit., p. 154)

The present panel, ca. 1658, 30.5 x 31 cm. private collection

Intriguing provenance

In his depictions of the Nieuwe Kerk, Saenredam recorded the armorial ensigns belonging to the family of a city official in each of the church windows. In the present work he omits all but the arms of burgomasters Cornelis Backer (d. 1655) and Johan van der Camer (d. 1657). Technical examination of the painting reveals that it originally contained two additional coats-of arms which were painted over before 1700. Schwartz and Bok speculate that this change occurred because the painting belonged to the Backer family, who were related by marriage to the Van der Camer family after the marriage of Adriaen Backer and Anna Catharina van der Camer in 1698 and may have requested that the painting commemorate the uniting of the two families (G. Schwartz, op. cit., p. 220).

In the early nineteenth century this painting entered the collection of Adriaan de Lelie, an artist who specialized in history paintings and portraits, popular among the progressive circles of Amsterdam. His pictures of people visiting art galleries are the precursors of the conversation piece which became popular in the nineteenth century.

More recently this painting was in the celebrated collection of the Dutch department store owner Pieter Dreesmann, which focused on some of the best examples of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age.❖

Adriaan de Lelie, The Art Gallery of Jan Gildemeester, 1794-95 © The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. SK-A-4100
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, A Man in a Gorget and Cap, oil on panel, 39.8 x 29.4 cm, formerly in the Dreesman collection.
Adriaen Coorte (1660-after 1707), Asparagus and red currants on a stone ledge, oil on paper laid on board, 33.6 x 23.9 cm, formerly in the Dreesman collection.
signature and inscriptions

Signed and dated ‘Pieter Saenredam fe Ao 1658.’ (lower left, on the base of the pillar)

provenance

(Possibly) bought from the artist by Adriaen Backer (Amsterdam 1635/6-1684), Haarlem, and (probably) by descent to his son Adriaen Backer (d. 1739), Haarlem, who married Anna Catharina van der Camer in 1698

Dirk van Dijl (1742-1814), painter, Amsterdam; his sale, Vinkeles, Amsterdam, 10 January 1814, lot 139, as ‘P. Saanreadam, Een Protestansche Kerk van binnen te zien, gestoffeerd met twee beelden, uitvoerig gepenceeld, hoog 131⁄2, breed 111⁄2 duim’ (The interior of a Protestant Church with two figures, extensively painted, 131⁄2 x 111⁄2 inches), (fl. 6,50 to [Adriaan or Jan] de Lelie)

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exhibitions

Paris, Institut Néerlandais, Saenredam, 1597-1665. Peintre des églises, 31 January-15 March 1970

Amsterdam, Amsterdams Historisch Museum, Art dealer and collector. 4th international exhibition, 27 March-31 May 1970

Bibliography

Saenredam, 1597-1665. Peintre des églises, Institut Néerlandais, Paris, 1970, exh. cat. no. 18, reproduced, p. 16.

Art dealer and collector. 4th international exhibition, Amsterdams Historisch Museum, Amsterdam, 1970, exh. cat. no. 50, reproduced, pp. 25, 125 (lent by Brod).

O.H. Dijkstra, ‘P.J. Saenredam, De noordwest-hoek van de Nieuwe Kerk te Haarlem’, Jaarboek Vereniging Haerlem, Haarlem, 1972, pp. 99-101, reproduced.

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