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View at Molen de Adriaan at the Spaarne River in Haarlem
Signed and dated 1917, inscription at the back: “Te Haarlem, (in Haarlem) J.H. van Mastenbroek”
Oil on canvas, 18 x 35 cm
Provenance: private collection.
Price: € 6,500
Only three works are known where Johan Hendrik van Mastenbroek painted scenes in the city of Haarlem.
Our painting provides a view on the Spaarne River in Haarlem, as seen from the north. On the left one sees the windmill de Adriaan, which is situated on the east bank of the river. The original mill dates from 1779 but it burnt down in 1932, only to be rebuilt in the years 1999-2002. On this spot there is a bend in the river, and therefore the silhouette of the Bakenesser tower is visible on the left, while in fact it is situated on the west bank of the river.
Even though covered by a grey blanket of clouds, the sun diffuses a white light. One cannot see far, houses and trees in the background dissolve in a diffuse grey. The river bank on the left has the somewhat neglected appearance so typical of the semi-industrial suburbs of a city, but that has completely disappeared in the present day. On the water the silhouette of a ship and with its reflection in the water, form the very centre of this composition.
Van Mastenbroek’s style could be characterised as post-impressionistic, but to characterise him as a mere offshoot doesn’t do him justice. He was an artist in his own right, firmly rooted in his own time. With his somewhat sketchy and atmospheric brushwork he offers us glimpses of a reality that we generally do not notice, simply because we do not take the time to stand still and watch it all.
Van Mastenbroek felt free to adapt visual reality in his work. Already in his early work one sees a tendency to broaden the image, to push aside the quay walls and houses in order to create more space and be able to show more of the air.
Already at an early age Mastenbroek became familiar with art. His father had a shop where he sold paint. At first, Johan became the apprentice of a house painter but later, from 1887 to 1894, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and Technical Sciences in Rotterdam. From the age of 17 on, he sketched countless cityscapes and river scenes.
Johan Hendrik van Mastenbroek became best known for his atmospheric river- and harbor scenes, mostly of the Rotterdam Harbour. He loved shipping scenes and was fascinated by industrial engineering and closely followed the development of the port of Rotterdam, with the excavation of new ports, the appearance of new harbour cranes and grain elevators offered prominent themes for his work; but not to the exclusion of other subject matter. From his hand there are also numerous polder landscapes, cityscapes, hunting scenes and even a few portraits known. Famous are the drawings, sketches and large paintings of the completion of the Zuiderzee Works that he recorded as a documentary artist.
He was a member of Arte et Amicitiae and several other artist’s societies. From as early as 1893 Mastenbroek was in contact with art dealers from London and New York and his work was sold internationally. His participation in major international exhibitions earned him numerous medals and commendations, (he received the Academy Award (Rotterdam) in 1897, de gold medal on the exposition in Munich 1901 and a Royal Medal in 1914). Galleries both at home and abroad were happy to represent his work. He became the most successful and celebrated port painter of his time.
In 1912 Mastenbroek moved from Rotterdam to live in Villa Quambi in Scheveningen, where he designed his house in such a way that there was plenty of light in his studio at the back.
That did not stop him from travelling to Rotterdam by train or tramway for years on end (until 1940, when the war started) in order to work there. He usually painted his oil paintings in his studio, with the use of sketches in pencil or crayon on paper, that he sometimes worked up in water colour.
He loved this method: “I always enjoyed it twice: first when I saw and sketched it outside and afterwards at home, when I worked out the painting or drawing. In the evening I scribbled what I had seen during the day, which resulted in many paintings and watercolours. (…) I could be so happy when I experienced a powerful impression; I could stand feast on the delicious cloud formations and the colourful struggle between the sun and clouds. I always went out sketching even when it was showery weather because one could see the most beautiful skies and magnificent colours. The earth would be soaked and therefore heavy in color and that felt so unctuous and those were the best days to go out to work. After that I could not rest until I had captured such impressions in a painting.”
In 1942 Johan Hendrik van Mastenbroek was forced to leave Villa Quambi, he temporarily settled down in Schiebroek and in 1943 returned to Rotterdam, where he would die two years later. And even in those eventful last years with two relocations he said: “The house is chock-full of course but I have my life work of sixty years around me and every now and then I can quietly work out my sketches. Of those I have so many that still need to be worked out.”
Mastenbroek became a chronicler of the developments of the Port of Rotterdam in a contemporary context. He documented an era: he himself characterized this as “more or less journalistic work”. In the case of the city of Rotterdam his artistic reporting saved an image of Rotterdam, as it was prior to the Second World War, when the city was hit hard.