with Martin Randall Travel, May 2015
The Panorama Mesdag stands in the centre of The Hague. It is a large cylindrical wall painting, known as a “cyclorama”, and was created by Hendrik Willem Mesdag (1831-1915) in 1880-81, assisted by his wife Sina and numerous art students. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panorama_Mesdag. He and Jozef Israels (1824-1911) are regarded as the two principal painters of The Hague School.
The panorama is about 14 metres high and 40 metres in diameter, and depicts the sea, the beaches and the village of Scheveningen during the late 19th century. Walking around on a platform positioned slightly above this massive circular landscape, I had the impression that I was standing on a dune overlooking the scene; a “terrain” filled with real-life objects – fishing nets, mariners’ ropes, anchors and a large clog lying on real beach sand. One has the sense of stepping into the painting, an illusion enhanced by sound effects.
This Panorama is similar to one in Lucerne, Switzerland – the Bourbaki Panorama – which portrays the horrors of war in general, and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 in particular. (It captures the time when General Bourbaki led his defeated Eastern French Army over the border into snow-clad, wintry Switzerland.)
Also in The Hague is the Gemeentemuseum (Municipal Museum), which was built between 1931-35, and designed by the Dutch architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856-1934): https://www.gemeentemuseum.nl/en .
Exhibited here are the paintings of the 19th century Hague School, which portrays the spirit of Romanticism, but with a unique Dutch spirit. (A “School” connotes a group of painters who work together.) Also visible here is the Realist genre – a sort of Dutch version of the Barbizon School, or Dutch “Impressionist avant garde” – from which Van Gogh emerged.
The collection includes works by the Dutch artists Charlotte Dumas, Pyke Koch, Charley Toorop and Hans Wilschut, and international artists such as Degas, Monet, Picasso, Frank Stella and Henri Le Fauconnier. There is a collection of 19th and 20th century prints, posters and drawings, and a collection of fashion items including clothes, jewellery, drawings and prints.
A musical collection includes instruments and a library, and a permanent exhibition of four centuries of Delftware, which displays over 235 items: “The highlights of the collection are a number of tulip vases. These impressive pieces, with spouts to hold tulips, were a fusion of Eastern and Western forms, decorative motifs and Asian porcelain.”
Guus again gave us a bird’s eye view of the exhibits.
The first railway constructed in the Netherlands was the 16 km line between Amsterdam and Haarlem in 1839. This “Iron Road” symbolised the New World, and steam trains began featuring in Dutch landscape paintings, altering for ever the viewer’s romantic notions of what such landscapes should portray. The natural environment began changing towards the end of the 19th century to accommodate large-scale agricultural developments and industry. The Industrial Revolution had arrived, and was captured in sketches, watercolours and oils.
The arrival of photography in the 1840’s made the painters determined to create even more mood and atmosphere in their work. Examples are Jacob Maris’s The Vegetable Gardens near The Hague (1878), and May in Noorden (c.1882) by Wilhelm Roelofs. The soft, diffused light of this intimate world is very different from the bright African sunlight with which I am familiar.
A current exhibition titled Beautiful Holland features the traditional Dutch landscape subjects: old churches, windmills, canals, crazing cows and vast skies with drifting grey-and-white clouds. The chief exponents of this style were Weissenbruch, Mesdag, Mauve and Gabriël, who went out into the countryside together to paint en plein air, capturing the iconic landscapes with which we have come to associate Holland. These Dutch Impressionists also painted the poor, the peasants, and beach and pasture landscapes. Copious pictures of gypsy women were potboilers produced simply to makes ends meet.
Just south of The Hague is the picturesque little city of Delft, known principally for the famous blue-and-white Delftware porcelain, Johannes Vermeer, the Delft University of Technology, and its association with the House of Orange-Nassau. The name comes from the Dutch word delven, meaning “digging”. We reached the beautiful historic centre, which dates from the 11th century, along avenues of flowering chestnut trees, and past pretty canals dotted with lily-pads and moorhens.
The city received its Charter in 1246, after which it became an important market centre, and by the 14th century was one of the largest towns in Holland. A great fire destroyed much of it in 1536.
In 1572 William Prince of Orange established his headquarters there, and led a growing national resistance against Spanish occupation of the country. After the Act of Abjuration in 1581, Delft became the capital of the newly independent Netherlands. Trade in the East during the 17th century brought great wealth, but in 1654 much of the city was destroyed by a massive gunpowder explosion. Fortunately many of the inhabitants were away at a market in a neighbouring town, but Carel Fabritius, creator of The Goldfinch, was injured during the catastrophe, and died soon after at the age of only 32.
The Markt (market or Main Square) in the centre of the old part of the city is one of the largest in Europe, and lined with shops displaying a glittering array of the local wares: Delftware, silverware, jewellery, Dutch chocolates and souvenirs. At one end stands the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), which dates from 1496, and at the other stands the Renaissance-style City Hall (1618-20).
Our principal destination was the Oude Kerk, nicknamed Oude Jan (Old John), a Gothic structure which is today a Protestant church. It was founded as St. Bartholomew’s Church in 1246, on the site of older churches built there two centuries earlier. The architectural plan is based on the traditional basilica, with a nave flanked by two smaller isles. The most distinguishing feature of this sober building is a 76-meter-high brick tower that was added from 1325-50, and which leans about two meters from the vertical. At the end of the 14th century the side aisles were expanded, and the church was re-dedicated to St. Hippolytus.
The great fire, iconoclasm, weather, and the explosion of 1654 took their toll on the church – now Protestant – and its furnishings, and a great deal of repair work has had to be done in the ensuing centuries. During one renovation, the tower turrets were rebuilt at a more vertical angle than the leaning body beneath, making the tower appear slightly bent. The current stained-glass windows are modern, created by the master glazier Joep Nicolas during the mid-20th century.
The vast, white-stoned interior is hushed and austere, apart from the brilliantly coloured stained-glass windows, with a wooden, cross-arched ceiling. There is no altar, as the Bible and the sermon are regarded as the most important elements of worship.
The church has three pipe organs, and a massive bell in the tower, weighing nearly nine tons. This bell, called Trinitasklok or Bourdon, was cast in 1570, and due to its strong and potentially damaging vibrations, it is only rung on special occasions, such as the burial of a Dutch Royal Family member. It is also sounded during disasters, at the same time as the local air-raid sirens, but not during the siren’s monthly, country-wide test, which happens every first Monday of the month.
Several significant townspeople are buried there, including the painters Johannes Vermeer and Hendrick Cornelisz van Vliet (who painted the church interior), scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek, and the poet Hubert Poot.
That evening, back in Utrecht, we opted for the Indonesian Rijsttafel (“rice table”) at Restaurant Blauw opposite our hotel. This elaborate ritual meal originated in Sumatra, in the former colonial Dutch East Indies (today Indonesia), and was brought back to Holland by traders of the DEIC. It consists of dozens of small delicious, aromatic side dishes that accompany bowls of rice prepared in a number of ways, including plain steamed rice and tasty fried rice. Popular side dishes are egg rolls, and fish, chicken, pork and beef, served with pickles, fruits and nuts, and a variety of spicy sambals. The chefs set out to treat the patrons with not only a wide variety of flavours and colours, but also textures: crispy, soft, hard, chewy, soft and liquid. It was an extremely flavoursome but filling meal, and doubtless served well the merchants who wished to impress their guests with the exotic abundance of the colonies.
The Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller Museum is located near the small, oak-shaded town of Otterlo in beautiful gardens and a vast natural heath known as the National Park de Hoge Veluwe (High Marshes). The Museum is named after Helene Kröller-Müller (1869-1939), who, with her husband Anton Kröller – a shipping and mining magnate – collected nearly 11,500 works of art between 1907 and 1922. Her father had made a fortune as an industrialist, supplying raw materials to the mining and steel industries. This museum holds the second largest collection of van Gogh’s paintings, as well as an eclectic display of other paintings (Cranach, Monet, Seurat, Picasso, Braque, and Mondrian), furniture and sculpture.
The galleries are beautifully laid out, each with a theme, and the walls are painted in different shades to match both the themes and the art on display, blending from one colour into another like the colours of the rainbow.
The “Nature” gallery includes van Gogh’s Girl in the Wood (1882), Pink Peach Trees (1888), Bridge at Arles (1888), Wheatfield with Reaper and the Sun (1889), and Landscape with Wheat Sheaves and Rising Moon (1889). The thick impasto of these pictures vividly displays the abundance of oil paint (now available in tubes) compared to Rembrandt’s day. Van Gogh leaves his mark with bold, separate brushstrokes, and blobs of paints applied onto the canvas.
“Still Lifes” includes vases of flowers, the paintings offset against a vermilion-painted wall – “potboilers” for a destitute genius. His Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses (1886-7) is more Classical in style, emulating the painters of the 17th century genre style. At least with these works he did not have to pay the sitters!
The “Human Figure” gallery includes a study for The Potato Eaters (1885) – a dingy cottage cast in Prussian blue, the torsos of the peasants lumpy and shapeless, La Berceuse (1889) – Van Gogh was then in a mental institution, and Portrait of Josef Roulin (1889) – a postman with streaks of blue paint in his beard.
“City Scapes” includes Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night (1888) – the stars are three- dimensional: thick blobs of yellow paint squeezed from the tube onto the canvas. “It suits me to paint the thing straight away…a way of getting away from the conventional way of painting the black night with stars”, Van Gogh stated. His copious letters to his brother Theo have left us a valuable record of his thinking behind each of his paintings. With so many beautiful things before me, I can’t help letting myself go, he wrote.
In many of the museums we visited in the Netherlands, I was impressed to see school children busily engaged in projects, copying famous paintings of their choice, and filling in answer sheets. The Museum organises “Detective Games” for children, in which they can answer questions printed onto illustrated postcards: How many toes does this owl have? Is this ball painted? What type of flower is this? What is this mouse eating? – all referring to details to be sought out in the paintings exhibited.
The sculpture garden outside is set amongst rolling green lawns and flowering rhododendrons.
Here visitors can wander amongst modern and contemporary works by Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Jean Dubuffet, Mark di Suvero, Lucio Fontana, Claes Oldenburg and Joep van Lieshout, and many others.
My favourite piece was a swan-like shape rotating in a pond, in which its reflection shone like a mirror-image:
Follow the Walking Route through the Sculpture Garden – a “Journey of Discovery” – here: https://krollermuller.nl/media/walking_route.pdf
One of the highlights of the entire tour was for me a 10 km cycle ride around the Park with Guus and several others of our group. We followed a well-marked path through glorious summery beech woods, past a former royal hunting lodge, and then out onto open sandy plains. It was good to enjoy the fresh spring air, and a bit of exercise.
The municipality and city of Apeldoorn was our next destination, originally a settlement that sprang up at the crossroads en route to more important towns during the 8th century, and the country Paleis Het Loo (The Woods Palace.) Now the favourite country seat of the Dutch royal family, it was originally a hunting lodge for the dukes of Gelderland. The palace we see today dates from 1684, the time of the then Stadholder, William III of England (r.1689-1702) of the House of Orange-Nassau and Mary II Stuart, until its more recent occupation by Queen Wilhelmina (r.1890-1948) – three centuries of royal occupation altogether. This Dutch Baroque building and garden were designed by Jacob Roman and Johan van Sweiten, and like many others in Europe, was inspired by Versailles – or set out to emulate the magnificent French model. It is a Rijksmonument, and among the Top 100 Dutch Heritage sites.
A self-guided tour took us through the Entrance Hall, up the Staircase to the Great Hall on the first floor, and to the apartments of William and Mary. There is also a Dining Room, a Long Gallery and a Chapel.
The palace is beautifully furnished, with magnificent tapestries, carpets, furniture and interior decorations. The atmosphere is quiet and distinguished, peopled with the whispering ghosts of the royal personages who once dwelt here.
A variety of activities are laid on in the palace and grounds throughout the year: concerts, a historical walk through the park, a culture market, and a “Prince(ss) Day”, dressing up for children.
The next morning we set out in the rain for Gouda, a market town in the west of the country famous for its cheese, smoking pipes and 15th century Gothic City Hall. Along the way we drove past orchards of blossoming peach, pear and apple trees, neat fields bordered with canals, rows of dark brick houses bedecked with wisteria and lilac, and water-logged fields with the occasional long-necked crane. It is an ordered and tidy world, everything neatly in its place.
Gouda began as a settlement during the Middle Ages when the Van der Goude family built a fortified castle alongside the banks of the Gouwe River, from which both the family and the city derive their name. A cheese and craft market takes place here on Thursday mornings; our visit was perfectly timed! Cheese merchants in traditional costumes scurried hither and thither covering and uncovering the large orange rounds of cheese every time a fresh rain shower descended, and then ceased. A horse-drawn cart delivered goods in the old-fashioned way, adding to the picturesqueness of the scene. Buy the delicious Boerenkaas, Guus advised. This we did, along with hot waffles with chocolate sauce, and the quintessential Dutch stroopwaffles – syrup waffles: flat round latticed cookies, chewy with a rich caramel filling.
Our principal destination was the Sint Janskerk (Great or St. John’s Church), the longest church in the Netherlands (123 meters). It is famous for its stained glass windows, created between 1530 and 1603 (with an interruption during the Protestant Reformation) by the brothers Dirk and Wouter Crabeth. The church was only spared because the City Fathers sided not with William of Orange (the Silent), but with Philip II of Spain.
In 1573 the Gouda council prohibited the practice of Roman Catholic religion, and in the summer it was opened for the Dutch Reformed faith, which it has remained until this day.
The church is dedicated to John the Baptist, the patron saint of the city. In 1939 the valuable stained glass windows were removed for safekeeping, and only restored after the War had ended, with the addition of the liberation Window in 1947.
For more information about of these magnificent windows – an important cultural and historical monument of the Netherlands – see: https://thesweetbagofthebee.blogspot.se/p/coming-soon-persephones-take-on-windows.html
It was interesting listening to Guus and our bus driver chatting together on the way back to Utrecht. Whilst it is relatively easy for us South Africans to understand the written word, following rapidly spoken Dutch is another matter entirely. There are many words that are similar to Afrikaans (which developed from the language of the Dutch settlers who arrived at the Cape in 1652), and when I spoke Afrikaans to the locals, I managed to convey my message – up to a point. But the two languages have naturally evolved separately during the past three and a half centuries, and there are now many differences that render total comprehension impossible.
It was also heart-warming to see several towns with the same or similar names as those in South Africa, which doubtless reflect the origins of the Dutch settlers: Alphen and Haarlem (Western Cape), Utrecht (KZN), Kiewietsmeent/ Kiewits Kroon (Pretoria), Doordrecht/Dordrecht (Eastern Cape), and many more besides.
The Centraal Museum is the main museum in Utrecht. Founded in 1838, it houses a wide range of mainly locally-produced work – the Utrecht School. Most significant is the largest collection in the world of paintings by the Northern Mannerist Joachim Wtewael (1566-1638), and paintings by such “Utrecht Caravaggisti” as Gerard van Honthorst and Hendrick ter Brugghen. Both went to Rome during the early 17th century to study the works of the “inventor” of chiaroscuro, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). There are also works by the most significant members of the Utrecht School, including Abraham Bloemaert, the portraitist Paulus Moreelse, and Jan van Scorel. The Procuress (1625) – procurer of “money for love” – by Gerard van Honthorst, shows the woman’s face dramatically illuminated by a candle, and aptly illustrates the deep impression that Caravaggio’s techniques left upon this Dutch school.
Later, that evening, an interesting discussion took place amongst members of our group as to why we love pictures so much. A number of reasons emerged:
A painting is a “window” into another world (time and place). We are shown this moment in time, and a fragment of their world through their eyes; it is their perception that is so intimately shared with us. Our own perception of what we each see is also a relevant factor in the viewing; not everyone “sees” the same thing. We may be shown a new view, or aspect of a subject. We may not agree with the artist’s view. His/her work either resonates with us, or is doesn’t.
Like a piece of music, a painting also tells us something about the artist and his/her era – the clothes they wore, the food they ate, and the issues that concerned or interested them most
– at that point in time. Was he/she painting according to a commission, or for the sheer love of it? What was the driving force behind the work? These are also questions we consider when learning to understand and appreciate music.
“I like pictures because they make me think”, said one of my companions, herself an artist. “It’s a mental exercise.” The vivid imagination of the painter, who can create a composition, and then have the physical skill and talent to transfer his/her ideas to canvas, was another reason. “It’s all a question of aesthetics,” offered yet another.
“Modern art makes us wonder about things; it provokes questions and debate”. Such is the joy of travelling with fellow art-lovers; we discuss and learn more from one another during conversations on the coach, over a coffee, or during meals.
The Hermitage Amsterdam was our destination the next morning. I amused myself on the coach trip to the capital taking note of sign boards to various other places that we passed. As during our road trips around Sweden, translating place names can be most revealing. Of course some names don’t mean anything – they are simply names, but others tell us something about the place that carries them. Dichterswijk, for instance, means “Poets’ District”, Duinzicht means “Dune View”, Paardenveld – “Horses’ Field”, Revierenwijk – “Hunting Area”? Hoograven – Highgraves? Veenendal – “Peat Valley”, Jaarbeurs = Fair, and so on. Well, one can speculate. Like old Swedish, old Dutch can also confuse modern interpretations.
The Hermitage Amsterdam is a satellite branch of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and stands on the banks of the Amstel River. The building, which dates from 1682, was originally a retirement home for elderly women, and then for both men and women. But in the 1990’s it was deemed inadequate for the needs of today’s modern residents, and a new facility was built for them elsewhere. The old building was given to the city, and, after extensive renovations costing €40 million, it was opened in 2009 by Queen Beatrix and the then Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev.
Guus focussed on one of the current exhibitions: The Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age. While the Dutch painters of this period were not known for large-scale pictures, but rather for smaller ones featuring landscapes and home interiors, the thirty enormous group portraits, sourced from the Amsterdam Museum and the Rijksmuseum, brings viewers face to face with the “new nobility” of the Netherlands – the influential citizens of the 17th century city. As the information board informs visitors:
Proud and self-assured is how Hollanders, Burghers of Amsterdam, choose to be portrayed in the seventeenth century. All Europe is subject to the authority of sovereigns, and the nobility, but in Holland it is the rich merchants who hold power. Trade flourishes, money floods in, and that is how they want to keep it. How do they do it? How do they organise their society? And why do they have their portraits painted in groups?
See these magnificent civic guards and group portraits here: https://portraitgalleryofthegoldenage.com/ .
An audio-visual show answers these questions: Who are these men and women? Why are they in these paintings?
An excellent map with moving lights marks the various trade routes of the Dutch explorer- merchants.
The work of Frans Hals appears superior in his large portraits than in his single ones; his sitters are less stiff, and are more interesting. They are more informally portrayed, with loose, virtuosic brushstrokes, and there is more interaction between the sitters, like actors on a stage. One derives a strong sense of community from these great historic records of the rich and powerful in the Amsterdam of these prosperous times. Money – through trade – sparked an efflorescence of the visible manifestations of incomparable talent and virtuosity.
Most interesting – and relevant – is an exhibition on the upper floor, titled CONTEXT AND LINK TO TODAY. Here the curators strive to delve deeper into the Dutch urban society and the background to the group portraits from the Golden Age. Other paintings depict images of Amsterdam during the 17th century, and demonstrate the great development that it underwent. The context of the group portraits is sketched out using themes such as the economy, prosperity and social care. Group portraits from the project Conference. The Netherlands Governs Itself by the contemporary Dutch photographer Taco Anema, amongst others, providing further links to the present day. According to the Golden Age Portrait Exhibition brochure: “Parallels are drawn between the 17th century Republic and the country today by exploring characteristic Dutch achievements such as egalitarianism, tolerance and the sense of freedom – the very essence of the French revolution earlier – Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité.”
Particularly endearing, in the Hermitage collection, is the portrayal of women in their domestic roles – mother, wife or serving maid.
WIFE AND MOTHER: Live a virtuous life, run the household, bear children and bring them up well, and with love: these are the duties of a woman. This is the message these tranquil, intimate paintings convey. The women in these pictures are expensively dressed; their fur- trimmed jackets obviously cost a great deal of money.
Examples of this gentle genre are Pieter de Hooch’s interior with a mother and child, The Joy of Motherhood (c.1666), and A Mother Feeding her Child Porridge (c.1650-68) by Quiringh Gerritsz van Brekelenkam.
Also significant was the following information board:
FREE, BY EUROPEAN STANDARDS. While Jews are persecuted elsewhere in Europe, they are welcome in Amsterdam, although they have to confine their activities to trade, and provide their own poor relief. Two synagogues are built around 1673, the High German and the Portuguese.
In A View of the Great and the Portuguese Synagogue (c.1680-85) by Gerrit Adriaensz Berckheyde, it is easy to see which group was the wealthier.
The Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace), which stands on one side of Dam Square in the centre of Amsterdam, alongside the Nieuwe Kerk, was a short walk from the Hermitage. It is one of three palaces in the Netherlands at the disposal of the monarch by an Act of Parliament. Originally built as a city hall during the Golden Age in the 17th century, it became the royal palace of Louis Napoleon, and later of the Dutch Royal family. It then became the property of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1936.
Guus took us on a fascinating tour through rooms more lavishly furnished than we were expecting, and demonstrative of the power and prestige of Amsterdam at that time. A vast central hall has a marble floor featuring maps of the western and eastern hemispheres. It was here, on 27 December 1949, that the official ceremony took place marking the transfer of sovereignty over Indonesia by the Netherlands, represented by Queen Juliana and the Indonesian Vice-president, Muhammad Hatta.
Our last morning was spent in Rotterdam, the largest cargo (container) seaport in Europe, situated in the southern Netherlands at the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta. These rivers provide waterways into the heart of Western Europe, hence the city’s nickname “Gateway to Europe”. The port dates from around 1270, when a dam was constructed on the Rotte River, where people settled for safety. During the 17th century it grew into an important seaport when it became the centre of the “six chambers” of the VOC – Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the Dutch East India Company.
Rotterdam is famous for the Erasmus University, named after the celebrated 15th century humanist and theologian, and founded in 1913. There is also an attractive riverside area in the city, a lively cultural life, and rich maritime heritage. The city centre was almost completely destroyed during WW II, which resulted in the emergence of a varied modern architectural cityscape ranging from ancient spires to sky-scrapers.
Museum Boijmans van Beuningen was our destination on our last morning. It is an art museum in the Museumpark district of Rotterdam, and houses the collections of lawyer Frans Jacob Boijmans (1767-1847) and Daniel George van Beuningen (1877-1955). The Museum is the second largest art gallery in the Netherlands, and displays works ranging from the Middle Ages through to the present day, including paintings by Rembrandt, Monet, van Gogh and Salvador Dali. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museum_Boijmans_Van_Beuningen
For the last time Guus guided us to the highlights of the collection. Amongst many others, the most interesting paintings are the “fake Vermeers” by Han van Meegeren (1889-1947), such as The Woman at Emmaus (1937). He became infamous as the “man who swindled Göring”. For more on this amusing anecdote see https://www.boijmans.nl/en/7/calendar- exhibitions/calendaritem/320/the-fake-vermeers-of-van-meegeren .
The Norfolk Triptych (1415-20) by an unknown artist is a priceless treasure, as are Lucas Cranach’s well-known Portrait of Erasmus (1530-36), Murillo’s exquisite The Virgin and Child (c.1660), Jan van Eyck’s The Three Marys at the Tomb (1425-35), and Hieronymus Bosch’s The Pedlar (c.1500) – an allegory of the Journey of Life. Guus drew our attention to an interesting comparison between Protestant Rembrandt’s sober Portrait of Aletta Adriaensdochter (1639) – a strict-looking Protestant with a massive stiff white ruff and her hair scraped back into a severe cap – not very alluring, and Catholic Rubens’s flamboyant Portrait of a Woman (1640). Here a beautiful woman regards us with a faintly provocative smile. She holds a painted fan in her left hand, and a fancy feathered hat atop an abundant hairstyle. She wears large drop-pearl ear-rings and a luminous pearl necklace. A plunging décolletage reveals a magnificent bosom framed in flimsy fabrics. Flamboyant and sensuous, this painting is a brilliant celebration of the very essence of womanhood.
An information board informs visitors:
“THE DUTCH REPERTOIRE
Refined souls often complain about Dutch artists’ lack of imagination, because those who believe that art should rise above daily reality soon get bored with a still life of a herring and an onion. Until they discover that it too has its poetry. That was the miracle of the Dutch Golden Age – it expanded the artistic repertoire immeasurably. Genuine landscape as seen by Van Goyen. Flowers from different seasons in the same bunch as if they were real. Costly shells from all over the world. All of visible reality was valid.
And then, amongst all that materialistic copying, along came a man like Hercules Seghers, who shows us landscapes that only existed in is mind. He could barely make a living from them, though Rembrandt bought his work. His death was miserable – a drunken fall down the staircase. Maybe he wanted to die. But his miraculous work and tragic end led many artists of the past century to see him as a kindred spirit.
And thus, significant in the Collection from the Dutch studios is Carle Fabritius’s Self Portrait (c.1645), the imaginary landscapes of Hercules Seghers, eg. River Valley with a Group of Houses (1620-25), and Vertumnus en Pomona (c.1640) by Paulus Maureelse – a Classical tale based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
More recent paintings include Edvard Munch’s Two Girls under an Apple Tree (1905), Paul Signac’s The Port of Rotterdam (1907) and René Magritte’s Youth Illustrated (1937).”
The Museum displays a number of pieces by Salvador Dali, whose quote is posted on the wall: I try to create fantastic things, magical things, like things in a dream. The world needs more fantasy. Our civilization is too mechanical. We can make the fantastic real, and then it is more fantastical than that which actually exists. Salvador Dali 1940.
Food for thought, indeed.
Before leaving the Museum, a long table with the words LEAVE A PIECE OF YOURSELF BEHIND illuminated in green, stands in an otherwise long and empty gallery. Visitors are invited, like the artists of old, to leave something of themselves behind to posterity. I left a rooibos teabag – all that I had with me, from my own country.
The drive to Schiphol Airport took us past more farmlands with cows and crops and large heavy horses with shaggy hocks, greenhouses filled with tomato vines, and tiny trains streaking across the land: Time to reflect on a small country that blossomed from relative insignificance into a land of great maritime and artistic magnificence.
One of our group, compulsive poetess Ansie Baird, shared with us her inspired piece commending Guus for his knowledgeable art-historical input, and our lovely kind English tour manager Dr. (GP) Lindsay Reynor, for her excellent quiet and efficient organisation. Thank you Lindsay, for tolerating my open-mouthed, feet-dragging awe in several galleries, that I might not lose the group!
Hail Britannia! Plus a Clutch of Dutch
By Ansi Baird
Ah, ecstasy, thy name is dinner,
So speaketh I, a minor sinner
Who assuredly could not get thinner
While eating last night’s spectacular dinner,
A real winner.
While we traverse the countrysides,
Something stable still abides,
The red-tiled roofs, the cobbled streets,
Cows lounging by a tree,
Provide a sense that nothing’s changed,
And the singing of each town’s church bell,
Reassures us all’s well.
As gratitude expands our pleasure,
We cheer Martin Randall without measure,
For Frans Hals, Rembrandt and Vermeer –
And endless landscapes a trifle dear –
Not to forget portraits by the dozens Of captains, fathers, sons and cousins.
But last night’s quite amazing sherry
Made our last meal extremely merry.
On conclusion, let me say,
History provided a glorious day
When the English and Dutch enacted a truce
Which provided us with both Lindsay and Guus!
For more of Ansie’s poetry, see her book, available through amazom.com, In Advance of all Parting (2009): https://www.amazon.com/Advance-Parting-White-Press- Poetry/dp/1935210092
For a most interesting article on the future of art museums, read the article onwards and upwards ON PP 77-78 in this edition of THE ECONOMIST: Onwards and Upwards.
“More than a third of American art museum directors are of retirement age. Those in charge of appointing the next generation must focus on three major issues.
“…the three W’s of traditional museums are white, Western and “womanless.” Up-and- coming directors face three major challenges: engaging more imaginatively with audiences, addressing America’s changing demographics, and negotiating the ever more delicate balance between rich donors and the public”.
Museum visitors are also getting older – 75 and older – most likely because they are retired and have the TIME. This must change…Young people need to be engaged through education programmes.
..all new museum directors must aim, chiefly, to ensure their missions match the needs and tastes of their future beneficiaries. Or risk becoming irrelevant.
I salute the relevant Dutch authorities, who, through conspicuous and numerous educational programmes with schools, and making the exhibitions relevant by linking them to today’s world, are doing a great job in keeping their fabulous artistic heritage alive and appreciated.