Skip to main content

Essay – Hendrick van Anthonissen – A Beach Scene

Login is required to access this page
Download is available until [expire_date]
  • Version
  • Download 2
  • File Size 574.69 KB
  • File Count 1
  • Create Date February 22, 2024
  • Last Updated April 25, 2024

Essay – Hendrick van Anthonissen – A Beach Scene

Beach scenes entered Dutch art as a subject already by the early fifteenth century, notably with Jan van Eyck’s famous miniature of Count Jan van Beieren of Holland at Scheveningen Beach. This, however, was an isolated example and it was not until the second half of the sixteenth century that sandy shores began to appear as a suitable background for the depiction of a host of Biblical themes such as the Miraculous Draught of Fishes. In the course of the century the prevalence of the Biblical figures diminished in favour of a greater emphasis of the landscape itself. The earliest instances of topographical renderings of Dutch beaches popped up in drawings and in prints, often immortalizing specific historical events such as stranded cachalots. In prints, especially in cartography, the beach also served as allegorical representation of the element of Water.

Of course, for a small country bordering on the mighty sea, beaches held and hold special importance. Beaches as pleasant places to enjoy nature and its charms go back beyond historical memory. But it was only in the 1610s and 1620s that printmakers from Amsterdam and Haarlem first began to issue topographical landscape views for their own right. One such series is the so-called ‘Plaisante Plaetsen’ produced by Claes Jansz Visscher (1586-1652). In tandem with this imagery, the beach also made its debut in pastoral literature, celebrating the beach as an un-corrupted refuge for citizens fleeing the busy life of the city. This was not just a literary concept; the Haarlem-based Karel van Mander relates how his friend the artist Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617) spent much time strolling, no doubt in the nearby dunes and on the beaches. The latter’s drawings showing the dunes around Haarlem rank among the earliest truthful depictions of the Dutch landscape.

The earliest topographical beach views in paint are by Hendrick Vroom (1563/63-1640), also from Haarlem. His earliest beach scene is of 1607.4 Other Haarlem marine specialists quickly followed suit, among them Cornelis van Wieringen (c. 1576-1633) and Cornelis Verbeeck (c. 1585-1637 or later). Their views, even though portraying actual places, give a rather naïve and anecdotal account of the activities on the seashore and little attention is paid to a faithful rendition of the atmosphere and landscape. Atmospheric effects became a chief concern of the great Jan Porcellis (1584-1632), who almost singlehandedly revolutionized marine and beach painting. His shipwreck scene close to the beach, in the Mauritshuis, of 1631, painted a year before his un timely death, is both a masterpiece and a milestone in the development of the burgeoning genre. The dramatic event is here subordinate to the sensitive and tonal portrayal of the murky sky and tossing waves. Porcellis’ contribution was immediately acknowledged and adopted by the artist’s peers, in particular Jan van Goyen (1596-1656), Salomon van Ruysdael (c. 1600-03-1670), Willem van Diest (1590-1610-1668 or later; KC cat. Diest) and Hendrick van Anthonissen. Born in Amsterdam, the latter was the son of a marine artist, Aert Anthonisz (1580-1620), also known in older literature as Aert van Antum. Aert will have been Hendrick’s teacher. Archival documents also confirm that Hendrick van Anthonissen was a pupil of Porcellis in Amsterdam in 1626. Four years later, Hendrick married Judith Flessiers, Porcellis’ sister-in-law. Following Porcellis’ death in 1632 the couple relocated to Leiden, taking Porcellis’ widow, Janneke Flessiers with them. In 1635 they are recorded as living in Leiderdorp. Around 1639 the couple returned to Amsterdam. Hendrick was recorded in Rotterdam in 1645 but around 1651 he was in Rijnsburg, near Leiden. It is likely that he actually kept Amsterdam as his domicile all these years. Hendrick’s son Arnoldus van Anthonissen (1631-1703) was his pupil and became a marine artist too.

Hendrick van Anthonissen’s oeuvre is small and consists solely of paintings. His earliest dated painting is of 1631 and together with the scarce other dated works permit an assessment of his development. The sole subjects he treated are marines and beach scenes. Although the latter are few and far between, the beach was a subject that Van Anthonissen treated from the start of his career. One of his earliest works from the mid-1620s, when he was probably still training with Porcellis, is a beach view. Van Anthonissen’s best-known beach view is the one in Schwerin. Showing a ship in distress near the coastline between Katwijk and Scheveningen, the painting is a clear attempt to emulate Porcellis’s already-mentioned interpretation of the subject in the Mauritshuis. Van Anthonissen’s Schwerin painting, with its strong thematic and stylistic reliance on Porcellis, no doubt is an early work, and could well be from the early 1630s.

The present panel painting was hitherto unknown and is among Van Anthonissen’s smallest works. Many of Van Antho nis sen’s marines depict existing locations. A panel in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, by far his largest and most elaborate beach view, and the Schwerin painting both show Scheveningen in the background. In our utterly refined beach scene there is no clue giving away a specific location. In spite of its modest dimensions the painting exudes an overwhelming feeling of space. A tent, a recurrent feature in Van Anthonissen’s beach compositions, with a fisherman inspecting his catch in front of it stands out against the overcast sky. The sails of the vessels on the sea indicate strong wind. The tiny figures scattered across the scene and the impressive cloudscape are a veritable homage to Porcellis. The date makes our painting a welcome document as to the development of Van Anthonissen’s beach views. In 1632 the artist moved from Amsterdam to Leiden. Martin Bijl has inspected the panel and concluded the long side measures exactly Rhinelandish inch, the inch that was prevalent in Leiden, making it likely that this work was produced there. In terms of composition our work strongly resembles a somewhat larger and tonal beach scene with fishing boats on sea in strong wind, which is similarly signed right from a tent, and can be dated to the same years as our panel. Hendrick van Anthonissen is not a famous artist with the public at large, but his paintings are invariably skilfully executed and often have a poetic charm to them. This well-kept work is no exception. [ES]