Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


JAN HENDRIK VERHEYEN (Utrecht 1778 – Utrecht 1846)

A Dutch Town Along a Canal

signed and dated J. Verheijen F. 1824 in the lower right

oil on panel

20 ½ x 25 ½ inches          (52 x 65 cm.)


Lord Robert Boothby (1900 – 1986), London

Estate of Lord Boothby sale, Christie’s, London, June 26, 1987, lot 6

Guarisco Gallery, Washington, D.C., from whom acquired by

Private Collection, Washington, D.C. until 2009


The visual feast that Jan Hendrik Verheyen has laid before us is one of pure fantasy.  Idealized cityscapes in which buildings of various periods and architectural styles are mixed together were the specialty of Verheyen and a few of his contemporaries.  Sometimes one or several of the buildings can be identified with existing structures, but in this case all of the architectural elements appear to be imaginary.  The painting with its balanced composition, great depth, beautiful light and reflections in the water as well as the variety of figures, animals and activities depicted must be regarded as one of the best-known examples of the artist’s work. [1]

The impetus behind the painting was Verheyen’s adherence to the principles of Romanticism, a movement that lacked a specific style but embraced an attitude that swerved away from reality to embrace dreams.  In their quest for new empirical truths the Romantics observed everything acutely and Verheyen has applied minute observation to the building of his imaginary city.  The crystalline clarity of the light vividly contrasted against the shade serves to further underline the idealization of the scene.  The overwhelming feelings of peacefulness and contentment so evident in the panel are integral to the artist’s painted dream of the perfect life spent in the loveliest of surroundings.  This work is an exuberant example of the transformation of eighteenth century Holland’s passion for realistic topographical paintings and drawings, also characterized by exacting detail, into a more romantic reproach in the early nineteenth century. 

Verheyen began a career as a notary, but gave it up at the age of twenty-one to paint.  His first instructor was Nicolaas Osti of Utrecht, who specialized in painting carriages and ornaments.  This was followed by a period of self-instruction in which he devoted himself to an intense study of nature and copying works by Jan van der Heyden as well as Job and Gerrit Berckheyde, to whom the artist’s architectural scenes are indebted.  He joined the Amsterdam Academy in 1822.  Although Verheyen painted landscapes and portraits, the majority of his output featured townscapes and it is these works that are most prized.  The few known works that are to a certain degree topographically correct, include the View of the Chancel and Tower of the Domkerk in Utrecht in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht.  Other museums where the artist’s work can be found are those of Amsterdam, Boston, Cheltenham, Glasgow, The Hague, London, the Pierpont Morgan Library as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Otterlo and Rotterdam. [2]

Lord Robert Boothby was a politician, author and broadcaster who resided in Eaton Square, London.  He had a colorful yet fairly discreet private life mainly due to the press’s refusal or prevention from revealing its particulars.  Starting in 1930 Boothby had a long affair with Dorothy Macmillan, wife of the Conservative politician and later Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.  He is believed to be the father of Sarah Macmillan, who was raised by the Macmillans as their own daughter. [3]  In a particularly benevolent gesture Harold Macmillan made Boothby a peer in 1958.  Boothby also had a very close relationship with Ronald Kray, who along with his twin brother Reginald were notorious East End gangsters in the 1950s and 1960s.  Convicted of armed robberies, arson, protection rackets, torture and murder, both were eventually sentenced to life in prison.    Boothby was a prominent commentator on public affairs on radio and television, often taking part in the long-running BBC program Any Questions.  He wrote four books: The New Economy, 1943; I Fight to Live, 1947; My Yesterday, Your Tomorrow, 1962 and Boothby: recollections of a rebel, 1978.  He was the Conservative and Unionist MP for Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Eastern 1924-1950 and Aberdeenshire East, 1950-1958.  He also served as Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Economic Affairs, 1952-1956, President of the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture 1934 and Rector of the University of St. Andrews 1958-1961.  Boothby was appointed an Officer of the Legion of Honour in 1950 and a KBE [4] in 1953.

We are indebted to Charles Dumas for his invaluable assistance in the writing of this entry.



[1] Written communication from Charles Dumas, Chief Curator of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague dated November 26, 2009.

[2] Biographical information taken from John Denison Champlin, Jr. & Charles C. Perkins, “Jan Hendrik Verheyden” in Cyclopedia of Painters and Paintings, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, volume IV, 1900, p. 352; Dr. Ulrich Thieme & Dr. Felix Becker, “Jan Hendrik Verheyen” in Allgemaines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, Veb, E. A. Seeman Verlag, Leipzig, volume XXXIV, 1908, p. 253; and Pieter A. Scheen, “Jan Hendrik Verheijen” in Lexicon Nederlandse Beeldende Kunstenaars 1750-1880, s’Gravenhage, 1981, p. 540.

[3] Francis Beckett, “Secrets and Lies”, New Statesman, January 16, 2006.

[4] KBE: Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

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