Martin de Wild’s restoration of Jan van Goyen’s View of the Valkhof

Gwendolyn M. Herrema

The RKD holds one of the world’s largest art-historical image collections, comprising some five million photographs and reproductions of works of art from the fifteenth century to the present day. In June 2018 the digitization of these images began and the material will shortly be presented in a new database on the RKD website. Each image is checked by a member of staff before it is scanned. This article was prompted by two remarkable black-and-white photographs that came to light during this process [1, 2].1

In the photographs one can see a large painting being moved. The pictures are rather striking because they show an unusual event and afford us a glimpse into a different time. The fact that so few images of artworks in transit have survived makes these pictures all the more special.2 On the back of both photographs is written: ‘Transport v. Goyen uit Nijmegen naar Den Haag voor restauratie 8 juni ’34’ ['Moving the v. Goyen from Nijmegen to The Hague for restoration 8 June ’34']. The painting in question is one of the most famous works by Jan van Goyen (1596-1656), his 1641 View of the Valkhof [3].3 In 1934 this work was hanging in the Council Chamber of the Nijmegen Town Hall, then located on the Korte Burchtstraat (now Burchtstraat). The restoration was covered extensively in the local press. On 8 June 1934, the Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant reported that the painting had been taken down from the wall that afternoon under the watchful eye of restorer Martin de Wild (1899-1969) and art historian Joannes van Rijckevorsel (1889-1949).4 Also present was the chief of police Sebastiaan van der Mark.5 The work was taken to De Wild’s conservation studio in The Hague using his very own tapissière – a van with a specially padded interior.6

The two shots were taken by a photographer from the Gelderland Press Photo Agency.7 They show the moment when the painting is being carried – unwrapped – out of the Town Hall [1].8 The restorer De Wild is wearing a pale suit with matching hat, and he stands at the bottom of the steps to the porch fronting the main entrance, as he oversees the operation. The second photo was taken shortly after [2]. Here the painting is being loaded into the tapissière by three men. De Wild stands on the pavement, next to the painting. The rotund man in pinstripe trousers gripping a cigarette between the fingers of his right hand is Van Rijckevorsel. Chief of Police Van der Mark can be identified by his uniform, and he is standing slightly behind. In the background are several onlookers who follow the scene with interest, including a cyclist who has even stopped and gotten off his bicycle.

Before restoration
The View of the Valkhof now hangs in Nijmegen’s Museum Het Valkhof. The artist depicted part of Nijmegen viewed from the far side of the river Waal: the citadel of the Valkhof towers over the surrounding buildings, dominating the city’s skyline. Sailing boats and other vessels drift on the calm water below a cloudy sky, while to the right boats moored to the quay are being loaded and unloaded. Groups of people have gathered around the city gates. In the left foreground a ferry with thirteen passengers is navigating its way towards the city. The artist’s signature appears on the bow of this barge: ‘I.VGOYEN 1641.’ The canvas measures 154 x 258 cm, making it the artist’s second-largest known painting. The monumental format suggests that it was commissioned by the Nijmegen Town Council.9 In all likelihood Van Goyen visited Nijmegen in the early 1630s, at which time he probably made various sketches of the city. In the period 1633–1652 he painted no fewer than thirty views of Nijmegen.10

The first mention of the painting can be found in an account by Evert Jan Benjamin Schonck (1745-1821), who was rector of the Latin School in Nijmegen, as well as a poet. In connection with his ode to the Valkhof citadel of 1805, he recorded that the canvas was housed in the Town Hall.11 Here it remained until 1880, when it was moved to Nijmegen’s Municipal Museum. Eighteen years later it was transported back to the Town Hall, a move that was certainly connected with the inauguration of the new Council Chamber in 1897.12 This room was designed by the city architect Jan Jacob Weve (1852-1942), who had it fitted with new panelling and decorated with works of art featuring notable figures and episodes from Nijmegen’s history. The Van Goyen was hung in a prominent position, right behind the mayor and aldermen’s table [4].13

In the early 1930s it became clear that many paintings in the Council Chamber were in urgent need of conservation. In April 1934 the Committee for the Preservation of Historic Memorials and Art in Nijmegen concluded that Jan van Goyen’s view of the city was in a very poor state.14 Without immediate action the painting was in danger of permanent damage, which would consequently diminish its value. After consultation with the Nijmegen City Council, the sum of 800 guilders was made available by Mayor Joseph Steinweg (1876-1973) and his Aldermen for conservation treatment.15 The person chosen was Martin de Wild, who had been trained as a restorer by his father Derix de Wild (1869-1932).16

Martin obtained his doctorate in chemistry in 1928 with his dissertation Het natuurwetenschappelijk onderzoek van schilderijen [Scientific research into paintings].17 He took a scientific approach to restoration and was one of the first to make use of technical research methods. In 1932 – the year in which he took over his father’s workshop – he had already provided a very satisfactory treatment to three of the Council Chamber paintings: a portrait of William IV by Philip van Dijk (1638-1753) as well as two portraits by Bernard Vaillant (1632-1698), envoys who had played a part in the Treaties of Nijmegen.18 The decision to appoint De Wild was undoubtedly influenced by Van Rijckevorsel, who sat on the committee mentioned above and was therefore directly involved in decisions about the restoration of works that were part of Nijmegen’s heritage.19 Moreover, he knew De Wild personally: he received his doctorate in 1932, and before he went on to become director-curator of the Nijmeegsch Kunstmuseum in 1938, Van Rijckevorsel trained in De Wild’s studio as a paintings conservator.20

Gelderland Press Photo Agency
The painting being carried out of Nijmegen Town Hall
8 June 1934
black-and-white photograph, 243 x 175 mm
The Hague, RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History
Photo RKD/Vicky Foster

Gelderland Press Photo Agency
The painting being loaded into De Wild’s tapissière, 8 June 1934
black-and-white photograph, 175 x 238 mm
The Hague, RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History
Photo RKD/Vicky Foster

Jan van Goyen
View of the Valkhof at Nijmegen from across the River Waal 1641
oil on canvas, 154 x 285 cm
Nijmegen, Museum het Valkhof
Photo Museum Het Valkhof/Peter Cox


Council Chamber of Nijmegen Town Hall c. 1930-1935
Nijmegen, Regional Archive Nijmegen

The View of the Valkhof was treated on at least three occasions: in 1878 by Willem Anthonij Hopman (1828-1910), in 1934 by Martin de Wild, and in 1991 by Erika Franziska Mösenbacher (1939).21 Unfortunately no documentation survived from De Wild’s interventions.22 The restoration, however, which took place in the period June-October 1934, was closely followed by the press. Several newspapers announced that the old varnish, which had become opaque in places, was to be removed, and damaged areas would be retouched.23 On 12 October, the Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant reported that the old and dirty varnish layers had been removed. De Wild had, where necessary, made sure that the paint was adhering to the canvas. He had also removed old, discoloured retouchings and applied new ones.24

The RKD has a reproduction of the painting from 1910/1911 [5]. This image thus dates from more than twenty years before De Wild’s treatment.25 It is clear to see that the varnish had become blanched in several parts of the sky. Round marks above and to the left of the Valkhof keep indicate areas of discolouration. A discoloured strip also appears alongside the tower. These may be discoloured retouchings that had been added during the 1878 restoration. There is damage to the left of the ferry boat. Further irregularities can be seen in passages of the water. The discoloured areas around the tower as well as the damage to the left of the ferry can also be made out in the photographs showing the transport. The somewhat blanched varnish in the sky area can also be seen in these pictures.

A black-and-white photograph given at the time by De Wild to the RKD, shows the work immediately after restoration [6]. It reveals that the damaged areas in the water and discolorations around the tower have disappeared. The sky has been ‘brightened up’, while the new retouchings are ‘invisible’, exactly as intended. Further information about the 1934 restoration can be found in the report written when the painting was treated in 1991, in the files of the Valkhof Museum. According to Mösenbacher, the lining on the back of the painting was probably attached by De Wild. An approximately 3-centimetre-high strip of retouching appears to have been added across the entire width of the painting at the bottom.

After restoration
Once the restoration was completed in October 1934, the work went on display at the Mauritshuis for two months.26 Writing in the Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant, the director of the Haags Museum Wilhelm Martin (1876-1954) remarked: ‘Following the excellent restoration, the canvas has now regained its original freshness, and it is striking to see how bright and luminous it is.’27 In December the painting was returned to Nijmegen Town Hall. Because of the threat of war, Nijmegen’s civic art collection, including pieces from the Town Hall, were taken to safety in 1939.28 Valuable art was relocated to a vault protected by sandbags which had been installed in the Mariënburg Chapel.29 We can assume that the Van Goyen was among the works moved to this facility, and the relocation turned out to be a very wise decision. On 19 September 1944, the Town Hall was destroyed by fire. In 1953 the canvas was returned to the Town Hall, which had been rebuilt in the meantime. It was moved again in 1978, this time to the Municipal Museum (the ‘Commanderie van Sint Jan’), which later became the Valkhof Museum. Situated on the edge of the Valkhof Park, the new museum opened its doors in 1999. Since then the painting has been hanging close to where the keep of the Valkhof once towered over the city.

Black-and-white reproduction from 1910/1911 of Jan van Goyen’s View of the Valkhof at Nijmegen
The Hague, RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History
Photo RKD/Vicky Foster

Black-and-white photograph from 1934 of Jan van Goyen’s View of the Valkhof at Nijmegen, after the restoration
The Hague, RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History
Photo RKD/Vicky Foster


1 The photos are found in BD/RKD/0800 - ONS/Voorordening Schilderkunst (Jan van Goyen).

2 There is a remarkable photo of The Nightwatch being transported across Museumplein in 1898. The Hague, RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, Cornelis Hofstede de Groot Archive (0356), inv. no. 82.

3 The photograph of the painting was taken by Peter Cox.

4 ‘Restauratie schilderstuk Jan van Goyen. Het schilderij naar Den Haag overgebracht,’ Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 8 June 1934.

5 Sebastiaan Willebrordus Josephus van der Mark was Chief of Nijmegen Police from 1934 to 1936. See: Nijmegen, Nijmegen Regional Archive, 2 Secretariat of the City of Nijmegen 1810-1946, inv. no. 53458.

6 ‘Restauratie schilderstuk Jan van Goyen. Het schilderij naar Den Haag overgebracht,’ Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 8 June 1934.

7 The Gelderland Press Photo Agency office was housed at 62 Van Welderenstraat. See: Algemeen adresboek voor de stad Nijmegen en omliggende dorpen, Nijmegen 1934, p. 520. The Nijmegen Regional Archive contains more than 3500 photos from the agency. The two pictures of the transport are not among them. It was not possible to identify the photographer who took them.

8 Both photos were originally part of Martin de Wild’s archive, which was purchased by the RKD in 1970. See: The Hague, RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, A.M. de Wild Archive (0345). In the past illustrations of works of art were removed from this archive and (once stamped with details of their provenance) added to the collection of visual documention.

9 Van Goyen’s largest work, made in 1650-1651, was commissioned by The Hague Town Council: View of The Hague (174 x 460 cm). See: E. Buijsen and B. Haak, Tussen fantasie en werkelijkheid, 17de eeuwse Hollandse landshapschilderkunst, Baarn 1992, pp. 169-170, cat. no. 31.

10 For a general account see: H.U. Beck, Jan van Goyen 1596-1656. Ein Oeuvreverzeichnis, Amsterdam 1972-1993 (4 vols.), vol. 2 (1973), pp. 168-181, nos. 342-373a; vol. 3 (1987), pp. 182-185, nos. 342-373a.

11 E.J.B. Schonck, Lot-gevallen van Nijmeegens Burgt, gezegd het Valkhof, Nijmegen 1805, p. 35.

12 For the return of the painting to the Town Hall, see: G. Lemmens and B. Thissen, Het Valkhof te Nijmegen, Nijmegen 1980, p. 153. For the inauguration of the new Council Chamber, see: ‘Officieel verslag, vergadering van den Raad der Gemeente Nijmegen,’ De Gelderlander 15 October 1897.

13 J.J. Weve, ‘De zaal voor Gemeenteraad-zittingen te Nijmegen,’ Bouwkundig tijdschrift XVI (1898), pp. 50-53.

14 ‘Beroemd schilderij wordt gerestaureerd,’ De Telegraaf 20 April 1934; ‘Gezicht op Nijmegen wordt gerestaureerd. Een kostbaar stuk van Jan van Goyen,’ Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 14 April 1934.

15 J.A.H. Steinweg was mayor of Nijmegen from 1929 to 1942. For the estimate of costs, see: Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 8 June 1934. The restorer eventually received 750 guilders.

16 M. Franken, ‘De archieven van Carel en Martin de Wild op het RKD en het onderzoek naar de geschiedenis van de restauratie / The archives of Carel and Martin de Wild at the RKD and the research on the history of restoration,’ RKD Bulletin (2018) 1, pp. 42-49, esp. p. 45.

17 A.M. de Wild, Het natuurwetenschappelijk onderzoek van schilderijen, The Hague 1928.

18 Nijmeegsche Raadzaal. Oude portretten gerestaureerd,’ De Gelderlander 8 May 1933. The works in question are: Portrait of William IV as a young man, Portrait of Willem van Haren and Portrait of Theodor Athlet Heinrich Graf Strattmann.

19 Verslag van de commissie ter verzekering eener goede bewaring van gedenkstukken van geschiedenis en kunst over het jaar 1932, Nijmegen 1932, p. 8.

20 J.L.A.A.M. van Rijckevorsel, Rembrandt en de Traditie, Rotterdam 1932. For his appointment at the Nijmegen Kunstmuseum see: H. van der Grinten, F. Villanueva et al., Collectie moderne schilderijen van het Nijmeegs Museum ‘Commanderie van Sint-Jan’, Nijmegen 1989, p. 6. For his period working in De Wild’s studio see: N. Japikse and H.P. van den Aardweg, Persoonlijkheden in het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in woord en beeld, Amsterdam 1938, pp. 1272-1273. Specific dates could not be found.

21 For these treatments, see: G. Lemmens and B. Thissen, Het Valkhof te Nijmegen, Nijmegen 1980, p. 153, no. 8a; E. Buijsen and B. Haak, Tussen fantasie en werkelijkheid. 17de eeuwse Hollandse landschapschilderkunst / Between fantasy and reality. 17th century Dutch landscape painting, Baarn 1992, pp. 169-170, no. 31.

22 Email from Maren Romen, conservator at the Valkhof Museum, 3 August 2020. Similarly, there is no information about the 1934 treatment in The Hague, RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, A.M. de Wild Archive (0345).

23 ‘Beroemd schilderij wordt gerestaureerd,’ De Telegraaf 20 April 1934; ‘Restauratie schilderstuk Jan van Goyen. Het schilderij naar Den Haag overgebracht,’ Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 8 June 1934. Varnish loses its transparency when it becomes blanched or cloudy so that the paint layers underneath can no longer be seen properly. Retouching is used to fill in damages or missing passages in the top layer.

24 ‘Weer een schilderij in de Raadzaal gerestaureerd,’ Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 12 October 1934.

25 There are several versions of this reproduction in the picture documentation of the RKD. The image was probably used for a number of publications. See for example: W. Martin and E.W. Moes, Oude schilderkunst in Nederland. Schilderijen van Hollandsche en Vlaamse Meesters in Raadhuizen, kleine stedelijke verzamelingen, kerken, hofjes, weeshuizen, senaatkamers enz. en in particulier bezit, eerste jaargang 1910-1911, The Hague 1912 (vol. 8), no. 48.

26 ‘Een Jan van Goyen in het Mauritshuis,’ Algemeen Handelsblad 10 October 1934.

27 W. Martin, ‘Jan van Goyen’s Valkhof gerestaureerd. Een pracht-bezit van Nijmegen,’ Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche Courant 10 October 1934.

28 On securing the civic collections, see: L. Savenije, Nijmegen. Collaboratie en verzet. Een stad in oorlogstijd, Nijmegen 2018, p. 110; For the removal of works from the Town Hall, see: G. Lemmens, Het stadhuis van Nijmegen, Nijmegen 1982, p. 147.

29 ‘De bescherming van de kunstschatten,’ De Gelderlander 1 September 1939.

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