KASPARUS KARSEN (Amsterdam 1810 – Bierbrich 1896)
A Capriccio View of a Dutch Town Along a River
signed K. Karsen in the lower right
oil on canvas
22 ½ x 33 ¾ inches (57.5 x 87 cm.)
(presumably) Anonymous sale, Galerie Thémis, Brussels, April 15–16, 1953, lot 564 (as A View of Heidelberg Along the Necker)
Anonymous sale, Christie’s, Amsterdam, November 20, 1984 (illustrated on the cover as A View of Heidelberg Along the Necker)
MacConnal-Mason Gallery, London, from whom acquired by
Private Collection, Maryland, April 1985, until the present time
(presumably) Hofstede de Groot archives, Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague, no. 56 (as A View of Heidelberg Along the Necker)
Kaspar Karsen was a “celebrated painter of Romantic townscapes.” He spent his life working in Amsterdam, with the exception of 1842–1844, when he resided in Haarlem. He studied at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, from 1825–1827, as well as with his uncle Pieter George Westenberg and Hendrik Gerrit ten Cate. In 1837, he traveled to Westphalia as well as the Rhine area, and later to Prague. In 1839, he joined the Dutch artists’ society “Arti et Amicitiae.’ His students included Cornelis Springer, Johannes Frederik Hulk, Henricus Jacobus Levett, Coenraad Metzelaar, Alexander Oltmans, Jr., and his son Eduard Karsen. He continually exhibited at contemporary art exhibitions in Amsterdam as well as The Hague from 1830–1885. Karsen’s works formed part of the permanent collections of the museums of: Amsterdam, Deventer, The Hague, Haarlem, Leiden, Rotterdam, and Utrecht. Pieter A. Scheen, in Lexicon Nederlandse Beeldende Kunstenaars 1750–1880, ended his entry on Karsen by simply stating, “he was one of the best city and river view painters of his time.” (“Was een der beste stads-en riviergezichten schilders ran zijn tijd.”)
The visual feast that Karsen has laid before us is one of pure fantasy. Idealized cityscapes in which buildings of various periods, countries, and architectural styles mixed together was the specialty of Karsen and a few of his contemporaries. This painting, with its balanced composition, great depth, and beautiful light along with the reflections of the water, certainly ranks among the most charming in his oeuvre.
The impetus behind A Capriccio View of a Dutch Town Along a River was Karsen’s adherence to the principles of Romanticism, a movement that lacked a specific style but followed an ideology that swerved away from reality to embrace dreams. In their quest for new empirical truths, the Romantics observed everything acutely, on full display in this work with Karsen’s minute detailing in the building of this imaginary city. The crystalline clarity of the light vividly contrasted against the shade serves to further underline the idealization of the scene.
Karsen’s compilation was so convincing that for decades the painting was called A View of Heidelberg Along the Necker, even though such key landmarks as the castle and bridge along with a number of other buildings in the right foreground are not those of Heidelberg. Karsen’s precise rendering of this vision of perfection is a prime example of the transformation of eighteenth century Holland’s passion for realistic topographical paintings and drawings—also characterized by exacting detail—into the more romantic reproach of the nineteenth century.
We are indebted to drs. Laurens Schoemaker of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague, and Dr. Dagmar Hirschfelder of the Kurpfälzisches Museum der Stadt Heidelberg for their assistance in the writing of this entry.
 Wiepke Loos, “Johann Eduard Karsen” in Breitner and his age, Paintings from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Waanders Vitgevers, Zwolle, 1995, p. 52.
 Pieter A. Scheen, “Kasparus Karsen” in Lexicon Nederlandse Beeldende Kunstenaars 1750–1880, Uitgeverij Pieter A. Scheen BV, The Hague, 1981, pp. 259-260.
 Written communication from Dr. Dagmar Hirschfelder of the Kurpfälzisches Museum der Stadt Heidelberg dated September 15, 2017.