Jan Sibrechts was a Dutch landscape painter and draftsman. The son of a sculptor of the same name, Siberechts became a master in the Guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp by 1648. His first paintings reveal the influence of the Dutch Italiantes, but he developed his own independent style between 1661 and 1672, often drawing inspiration from rustic Flemish life. He favored scenes with shallow crossings, or floods peopled with peasants with their cattle, hay wagons, and carts. An English duke who visited Flanders in 1670, invited Siberechts to England, where he remained until his death. His fresh views of the English countryside are among the country’s earliest landscape paintings.
Our picture, A City View with the Tower of the Antwerp Cathedral, is a vivid and convincing portrayal of a busy port. The beach in the foreground is alive with bustling figures coming to and from the shore, where boats wait with full cargoes. Both mules and their masters carry loads on their backs to the awaiting boats. At the lower left, a dog playfully barks at a woman beside him who holds a woven basket. The figures are handled with great sensitivity to gesture and composition. At the upper right, a castle overlooks the dock scene. The artist depicts the city of Antwerp in the distance with careful attention to architectural detail. The spires of the Antwerp Cathedral echo the shape of the mountain that rises beyond the city. The sky above is rendered in delicate washes to convey depth and color gradation.
This delicacy is balanced by the sketchy style of the artist. The vibrant, quickly drawn lines give spontaneity and energy to the painting. Pencil ghosts emerge from the washes, not fully drawn out in stronger ink like the figures, but blurred in the way the eye of the observer would view the middle distance. A palette of pale washes in pink, blue, green, and beige do not overwhelm the strongly drawn foreground figures, but create depth to distinguish the foreground from the distance.