Black chalk, black chalk framing lines, on wove paper, November 1805.
The Haarlem-born artist Joannes Pieter Visser Bender was a promiment member of the Haarlem drawing academy, or ‘Teekencollegie’. He had also been taught by Warnaar Horstink and Izaak Jansz. De Wit. His early death was unfortunate, as the young artist was already one of the academy’s most promising and gifted members. Visser Bender’s drawings are characterized by their distinctive careful hatching. Dated figure studies are known from 1802, 1803, 1805 and 1806, preserved in the Teyler Museum §, Haarlem, which holds the largest collection of the artist’s works.
In 1805, Haarlem formed part of the Batavian Republic. In 1795 Revolutionary forces sympathetic to France had forced the exile of William V of Orange when the army had been defeated at Woerden.
Various commissions gathered and implemented the revolution in Haarlem. The commissions changed the city’s administrators in a bloodless revolution, and the next morning the city was ‘liberated’ of the tyranny of the House of Orange. The revolution was peaceful and the Orange-loyal people were not harmed.
The French army entered the liberated city two days later, on the 20 January. An army of 1,500 soldiers was provided with food and clothing by the citizens. The new national government was strongly centralised, and the role and influence of the cities was reduced. The Batavian Republic had signed a mutual defense pact with France, and was thus automatically at war with England. The strong English presence at sea severely reduced the trading opportunities, and the Dutch economy suffered accordingly.
Visser Bender would have been familiar with a strong military presence in the town and scenes recording the daily life of locals form a strong thematic pattern thought his oeuvre.
Napoleon was intent on the destruction of Great Britain in an ambitious planned invasion. The Batavian Republic was to play a major supporting role in this. As the Franco-Batavian alliance’s embodiment, the Staatsbewind was forced to assent to a Convention bringing the total of French and Batavian forces in the Netherlands to 35,000. In addition, 9,000 Batavian troops were earmarked for the proposed overseas expedition. Even more importantly, the Dutch were to supply, by December 1803, five ships-of-the-line, five frigates, 100 gun boats, and 250 flat-bottomed transport craft, capable of holding 60–80 men. In total the Dutch were meant to provide transport for 25,000 men and 2,500 horses; the major part of Napoleon’s invasion “armada”, and all at Dutch expense. It was all a fantasy on Napoleon’s part, but this did not diminish the real burden it imposed on the finances of the Republic, and on its economy.
Interestingly, Nelson had frustrated Napoleons ambitions for an invasion of Great Britain at the battle of Trafalgar the month before the execution of this drawing. Visser Bender would have witnessed many French soldiers saying their farewells to their lovers before being reposted elsewhere in the Empire.
§ See Leslie A. Schwartz, The Dutch Drawings in the Teyler Museum, artists born between 1740 and 1800, Haarlem/Ghent/Doornspijk 2004, pp. 457-82, nos. 649-707.