ArtSmart Roundtable: Genre paintings of Holland’s Golden Age

Monday, November 5th, 2012. Filed under: Art ArtSmart Roundtable Europe Netherlands

Johannes Vermeer, The Kitchenmaid (1660), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Time again for ArtSmart Roundtable, a group of travel bloggers with a contagious passion for art. Each month, Roundtable members publish a post on a chosen topic; this month is Art Genres. Be sure to scroll down for links to my colleagues’ unique blogs and perspectives. And now, genre paintings of Holland’s Golden Age.

A quick check of Webster’s Dictionary defines genre as (1) a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form or content (2) kind, sort (3) painting that depicts scenes or events from everyday life usu. realistically. It’s the last category that flourished from 1610 to 1670 during Holland’s Golden Age.  Here’s why.

Hendrick Avercamp’s Winter Landscape (1608) is a conversation piece that sprinkles entertaining vulgarity (people squatting in an outdoor privy or urinating in public) in an appealing landscape. Rijksmuseum collection.

17th century Holland, or the Netherlands, enjoyed unprecedented wealth from its vast shipbuilding industry and trading empire.  It was an independent, Protestant republic. Traditional sources of art commission and patronage did not exist because its Protestant churches forbade religious art and there was no royal court. Art became democratized in both subject matter and ownership. A prosperous middle class were the new collectors and for the first time in history, artists produced art for an open market rather than by individual commission.

Pieter Claesz, Still Life (1660).

Demand for paintings of pleasing subject matter in smaller sizes was extremely high and thousands of artists worked to fill the demand with lovely land- and seascapes, still lifes featuring food or flowers including everyone’s beloved tulips. Genre paintings depicted scenes dear to Dutch hearts: merrymaking in taverns, serene domestic interiors, the care of children and the home.

Peter De Hooch, The Mother (1658), Rijksmuseum. The mundane subject of a mother searching her child’s hair for lice is elevated by De Hooch’s virtuosity in depicting multiple light sources and an appealing domestic calm. (Note: Hooch is pronounced Hoogh)

Following in the tradition of the detailed realism of early Netherlandish art (Bosch and Brueghel), the best Dutch genre artists elevated their prosaic subject matter to fine art through meticulous attention to detail and extraordinary rendering of light. Though he left fewer than 40 canvases and died bankrupt, Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) is now considered second only to Rembrandt among Dutch Masters.

Vermeer, The Little Street (1658), Rijksmuseum collection.

All paintings in this post are in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. One of the world’s great treasurehouses of art, the Rijksmuseum has undergone a ten-year, 375 million Euro renovation. A selection of 400 masterpieces of the Golden Age – including Rembrandt’s Night Watch and more masterpieces of Dutch painting – are on display in the Philips Gallery until March 17, 2013. The spectacular new Rijksmuseum will reopen April 13, 2013, with 8,000 works in 80 rooms showcasing 800 years of Dutch art and culture.

From The European Fine Art Fair TEFAF Maastricht, the grand reopening of the Rijksmuseum, and millions of tulips in bloom, Holland in spring is a feast for the senses. For more on visiting one of the world’s great art and culture destinations, see Visit Holland, official website of the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions.

Johannes Vermeer, Woman Reading a Letter (1662), Rijksmuseum collection. Vermeer’s true subject matter was the rendering of  light on form and colour.

Sometimes genre paintings depicted a moral or common Dutch saying. With its guzzling parents and smoking children, Jan Steen’s The Merry Family (1668) illustrates the Dutch proverb ‘as the old sing, so pipe the young’, cautioning parents against setting a bad example.

The ArtSmart Roundtable:

Erin of A Sense of Place:  Mosaics Aren’t Square

Christina of Daydream Tourist:  Self-Portraits

Kelly of Travellious:  Old Master Prints

 

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