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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Egbert van der Poel

View of Delft from the Southwest, 1615 , Hendrick Vroom
Egbert van der Poel--never heard of him, right? Neither had I until I was researching the Dutch genre painter, Jan Steen (05-13-13). and stumbled upon an artist, certainly not on the same level, but much more interesting. Egbert van der Poel was a Dutch landscape painter born in Delft, Holland, in 1621. Nothing unusual about that, Holland was rife with run-of-the-mill landscape painters all during its "Dutch Golden Age" of the 17th century, and van der Poel was one of them. Among his contemporaries were Jan Vermeer and Carel Fabritius, both of whom are highly admired today.

View of Delft, Jan van der Heyden,
--a quiet little town.
October 12, 1654 dawned pretty much like any other autumn day in Delft, Holland, a southern suburb of The Hague, famous then and now for its delicate blue on white ceramics. Shops were open, the cheese was selling well, painters were painting, children were playing outside, small boats moved up and down the town's many narrow canals delivering produce from the fall harvest. In the basement of a former Clarrisen convent near the center of town, around eleven a.m., Cornelis Soetens, a warehouse keeper, went to check on a secret government cache of about thirty to forty tons of gunpowder. Seconds later, for reasons never established, the entire magazine exploded in what has since been called the "Delft Thunderclap." The sound alone could be heard seventy miles away. Much of the central part of the town was flattened. Nothing was left of the convent/magazine but a hole in the ground which, this being Holland, quickly filled with water. Over one-hundred people were killed, thousands were injured. Among the dead was Egbert van der Poel's young daughter.

A View of Delft After the Explosion of 1654, Egbert van der Poel--
the aftermath of a 70,000 pound "bomb"
Carel Fabritius Self-portrait,
1645-49, dead at the age of 32.
Also among the dead was Delft's most famous painter, Carel Fabritius (left), a former student of Rembrandt, whose studio had been near the convent. All but about a dozen of his paintings were destroyed in the disaster. Egbert van der Poel was more fortunate. He lived on Dollenstraat somewhat further removed from the quarter part of the town destroyed by the blast. Despite the death of his daughter (or perhaps even because of his personal loss) van der Poel began sketching the disaster scene. The drawings led to his most famous painting, A View of Delft After the Explosion of 1654 (above). Much like photographers today would record the devastation of such a disaster, van der Poel's depiction (now in Washington's National Gallery of Art) records both the general scene and, in the foreground, the recovery effort. His work proved so popular, even though he moved his remaining family to Rotterdam, he spent the next several years copying his original scene including a version, similar to his first, depicting the moment of the explosion (below).

View of the Delft Explosion, 1654, Egbert van der Poel

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