On my wall there was a modest space available, large enough for a mirror, but then I thought, no, not a new mirror, better find a secondhand mirror, maybe oval or maybe rectangular. I felt there was an element missing between the paintings hanging on my wall and, besides, the middle part of my studio, the part between the front windows and the back balcony was a bit dark at times. A mirror might help. Did I, and I asked myself this while standing on the Keizersgracht one evening with a small object between my hands, favor this little mirror, poorly wedged into an old chipped frame? Someone had put it out on the street. I thought not.
Months later, I passed by a pile of picture frames and whynotstuff set out on the street for grabs and I thought, hold on, that mirror is exactly what I am looking for. The mirror was vintage, held in place by a painted wooden frame, a color of green that is an old green, favored back in the 1920’s and the frame was unremarkable, made of heavy wood with the heavy piece of glass set into it. The wire attached to the back was sturdy, sensibly placed and ready to use, and the mirror, all in all, was well made and preserved. Turning it over, the top of the frame touched my nose. I noted the wood had a faint odor of chimney smoke. It must have been a very nice little mirror for a hovel back in the day.
Wait, I thought looking down, what’s this between the empty picture frames? A painting. Apples that looked like they, too, were from the 1920’s, encased in a bronze-colored frame that looked like it was from the 1920’s. Maybe 1930’s. Did I like those apples? I decided I did. I took it home and inspected the signature. SPRENGER it said on the bottom. APPELS it said, in Dutch, on the top. (A friend later told me that he thought one of the apples looked more like a quince.) In total, six whole apples and one quarter of an apple are depicted in the painting, an oil painting set behind glass.
Five of the apples are displayed in a grey colored dish and the background is typically Dutch, namely that of an oriental rug, the kind people used to put on top of their tables. I often think it was so citizens could inspect the prized object better than had the rug been used, father down, on the floor. It’s an old-fashioned habit that I rarely see in homes today.
Just who was this apple painter, this Sprenger? A pomologist, a professor of apples who had wanted to become an artist and, unsurprisingly, his 19th century parents did not approve. Instead, the man became a horticultural champion at a university down in the southern region of the Netherlands, a recognized cultivator of fruit, and the hero of apple crops before he was forgotten. He politely named two of his apples after the young royal princesses and further spent a significant amount of time researching economical ways of processing and promoting a thick fruit juice that undoubtedly could be an improvement to any diet (as prescribed by important doctors and then surely all the medical profession at large). Thus, was born of Professor Sprenger a line of juice drinks named Zoete Most that, pre-war, competed with the groundbreaking Swiss products already sold on the European market.
In the weekends Professor A.M. Sprenger painted apples, shutting himself up in his attic. I have no idea how these Appels came to be put out to pasture on a small street in the city center of Amsterdam, but I am charmed to see them now hanging on my wall.