Cornelis Springer began his career as a painter of semi-imaginary, and sometimes completely imaginary, urban scenes. But beginning around 1855, Cornelis Springer created his paintings exclusively from studies of actual locations, although Cornelis Springer sometimes polished up certain details. Cornelis Springer’s works are characterized by the interplay of light and shadow.
Cornelis Springer’s speciality was painting architecture from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; classicistic buildings from the eighteenth century and neo-styles of the nineteenth centuries are found nowhere in his oeuvre. Cornelis Springer remained true to his Romantic-realistic style until his death one year after his contemporary, and perhaps the most venerated fathers of Modernism, Vincent van Gogh.
Cornelis Springer painted the Amsterdam Herengracht on a nice summer’s day. In the foreground on the left, Cornelis Springer pained two strong men loading or unloading a horse-drawn sledge. A young boy with a loaded tray around his neck on a strap hopes to sell some wares. Along the quay, two seventeenth-century gentlemen are approaching, accompanying a young lad, dressed as elegantly as they, and a keenly alert dog. A cabin-boat is pushed from the quayside and makes for Herengracht, where a half-rigged ship is just floating by. A carriage creaks as it is drawn over the arched bridge over the canal.
Cornelis Springer’s composition seems unforced, but it is carefully formulated around a specific system. The vertical line of the four trees divides the painting into two sections, with the ground and its houses on the left, and the water and its boats on the right. The horizon is cut off by the line of houses across Herengracht in the distance, emphasized by the parallel line of the bridge underneath it. Cornelis Springer’s provided depth by the slanted lines of the façades on the left. The light is from the left, the sunlight shining on the houses telling us that it is around midday. The atmosphere is quiet and peaceful. It is a striking achievement in such an architectonically technical painting to give us the impression of a gentle summer afternoon.