A Saenredam discovery, and the power of the web

January 3 2012

Image of A Saenredam discovery, and the power of the web

Picture: BG

Here's a very satisfying discovery with which to begin the year - a rare exterior landscape by Pieter Saenredam. You may remember that I recently posted an article on the picture when it was at auction last year, catalogued as 'follower of Saenredam' at Christie's South Kensington. It was estimated at £3-5,000. It looked to me a little better than 'follower of' (I wrote that 'it shone out at the viewing') and I was hoping to bid on it myself.

Sadly, it was withdrawn (perhaps another dealer paid too much attention to it), and the picture was expunged from the online catalogue. But happily Saenredam scholar and noted art historian Gary Schwartz saw the picture here on AHN. And now he has written a fascinating entry on his own blog about the picture. His conclusion, along with that of his colleague Marten Jan Bok (co-author of Schwartz's 1989 book on Saenredam), is that there is little doubt the painting is indeed by Saenredam.

How then, if they have only seen the image on Art History News, can they be so sure about the attribution? Through excellent research. Read their analysis in full here, but the crucial facts are these:

  • The scene shows the town of Assendelft, where Saenredam lived. The main building is the town hall. In front of it is the scourge post to which local villains were tied. The church is that of St Odulphus.
  • The house in which Saenredam grew up can be seen in the painting, to the left of the church. 
  • The picture is dated 1634, when Saenredam is documented as returning to the town, and making a series of drawings that relate to the painting. 

Obviously, this is not only a fantastically rare work by Saenredam, but a highly important document in relation to the artist's life. While it will always be a shame I couldn't buy it for £3,000 (tho' I suspect it would have made far more), it is wonderful that the full story behind the picture has now come to light.

The story is also an example of how the internet is driving art history forward at an unprecedented rate. Further proof of this can be found at the end of Gary Schwartz's blog post, for after reading Gary's post, a reader got in touch with news of some early provenance for the picture - dating to 1784. Sounds like the auction houses need to start their own blog...

PS - top AHN tip, if you think you've seen a sleeper at auction, don't stare at it for too long. It may get withdrawn.

PPS - curious coincidence: my post on the picture being withdrawn from CSK was made on 8th December, exactly one year after the last Saenredam sleeper sold for over a million pounds at Bonhams.  

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