The cityscape, a reflection of our built environment, developed into an independent genre in the Netherlands in the second half of the 17th century. It mainly developed in Amsterdam. This was probably related to the growth and prosperity of the city as the center of the powerful Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and the increasing prosperity of the merchants and city regents. They probably liked to see the city to which they owed their wealth hanging on their wall. Due to the broad demand for cityscapes, artists made it their specialty, such as Jan van der Heyden and Gerrit Adriaensz. Berckheyde. A prerequisite for success was a realistic and accurate depiction of the city. As far as can now be ascertained, these cityscapes were sometimes topographically correct, but usually the painters tinkered with a composition until an attractive whole was obtained.
In the 18th century, the genre's popularity declined somewhat, but in the 19th century it started to flourish again. One of the most important interpreters of the cityscape was the Amsterdam painter Cornelis Springer. From about 1875 onwards he painted city portraits in meticulous brushstrokes, with a town hall or rich merchant houses in the Dutch Renaissance style in the center of the image, bathed in bright sunlight. He found inspiration in the big cities and in the old fishing towns around the Zuiderzee. In doing so, he embellished reality somewhat through changes in the composition and the omission of disturbing, contemporary elements. Striking is the precise elaboration of architectural details such as frames, window divisions and ornaments, which are displayed down to the smallest parts. By depicting 16th and early 17th-century buildings, with their stepped gables and characteristic combination of red brick and sandstone moldings, he responded to the growing interest in buyers' circles for the own past of the Golden Age. The same realism and attention to old Dutch architecture is evident in the urban fantasies and portraits of Adrianus Eversen, Frederik Roosdorp, Jan Weissenbruch and Willem Koekkoek. In addition to topographically more or less accurate architectural paintings, there were also Old Dutch townscapes in which the emphasis seems to lie on the picturesque and the atmosphere. The work of the Hague set painter B.J. van Hove, twenty years older than Springer, is an example of this, as is that of his students P.G. Vertin and Charles Leickert. They provide their imaginary Dutch towns, in summer or winter, at will with the striking towers of the Oude Kerk in Delft, the Sint-Bavo and the Bakenesserkerk in Haarlem or the Grote Kerk in Alkmaar.
The idealized cityscape as described above came to an end later in the 19th century, when the painters of the Hague School proclaimed their theories about plein air painting. City chroniqueur Floris Arntzenius painted in The Hague and impressionists such as G.H. Breitner and Isaac Israels on the street in search of pieces of urban reality. In addition to the bustle of the city, Breitner also painted the alleys in the Jordaan and the silence of the Bickerseiland, near his studio. He also found typical parts of Rotterdam, which show us the city from a completely different side than the images of the never-resting port city that Johan Hendrik van Mastenbroek left us.
Typical of the painting of the Amsterdam painters born after 1860 is the need to express their own, individual in their art. Art is passion, the poet Willem Kloos expressed this point of view. This was expressed in a small group of painters in the need not to paint for trade or the public, but for themselves and like-minded people. Willem Witsen focused in his Amsterdam cityscapes from 1887 on depicting mood and the timeless beauty of the city. Like Breitner, Witsen was a photographer. He did not use his photos for his paintings, but it does explain his special way of looking. The Impressionists' cityscape influenced many painters in the 20th century, up to the present day. While some were influenced by new artistic movements such as Neo-Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism and Realism, these Impressionists continued on their chosen path. The complete artistic freedom that arose after 1945 eventually led to a new visual interpretation of the world of city and village.