Art is the new rock ‘n’ roll or so it seems. It’s everywhere. High profile new unearthing of lost greats such as the recently discovered Tutu by Nigerian Ben Enwonwu, unseen since 1974, fiercely contested export licences for national treasures such as the rare oil sketch on paper of an African Man Wearing Turban by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (buyer required please, only £7.7m needed to keep it in the country). Everyone’s favourite Latino actor Antonio Banderas is getting in on the act staring as the lead in Genius:Picasso which has just wrapped in Budapest. Art really is becoming a reflection of our modern lives and thank goodness for that.
The 17th century Dutch Golden Age will be the new star of the old this year. That wonderful creative period of 500 years ago that gave us Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals to name but a few. From May to September 2018 it will be possible to visit the Holbourne Museum, Bath and see 22 works by some of the period’s finest exponents such as Gabriel Metsu, Peter Lely, Simon Pietersz and Rembrandt. The exhibition will explore what made this period so creative and collectable to the country houses owners of Britain. The collection is gleaned from National Trust Houses and is a unique presentation.
If your appetite is wetted but you can’t wait then why not head off as I did to where it all began, Leiden, Holland, the birthplace of Rembrandt in 1606. A master painter, print maker and draftsman, he is considered by some to be the greatest visual artist of all time. Leiden is a charming town not far on the train from Schipol Airport, you could do it comfortably in a day. The canals are the best way to explore the city, I drifted round on a brilliant barge that had a roof that lowered to accommodate passage under some very low bridges (you have to bend down and hope for the best). A guide informed me of how the rich were buried in the church as they could pay (the poor of course were just dumped outside the city walls) but as each burial took place in the church the entrance to the crypt of the church started to smell odious hence the saying ‘Stinking Rich’.
Sadly, Rembrandt’s house no longer stands but the site where his father had a mill now has a replica windmill (this is Holland after all) and there are wholesale renovations increasing its size by 50% going on at the Lakenhal Museum, which will open again in 2019. There are plenty of other sites to visit including the extraordinary botanical gardens established in 1590. The Victorian green house is especially worth looking in on.
Holland is a great size to visit as nothing is too far away. I went to The Mauritshuis (Maurice House) in The Hague. This is a powerhouse of a gallery, which contains 841 objects from the Royal Collection most of which are Dutch Golden Age paintings. It is here that I saw Vanmeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, his haunting view of Delft, Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulip, Two Moors and his enigmatic 1669 self-portrait. But that’s only the beginning. Hendrick Avercamp’s On the Ice and Peter Paul Rubens Night Scene are here too.
They have a rolling exhibition space as well and on my visit it had 20 history paintings by Jan Steen also born in Leiden, a prolific painter of humorous contemporary life and superb collection of paintings. Each has its own space to breathe and be seen. The Mauritshuis is a cornucopia of the Golden Age painters that shouldn’t be missed.
Prized possessions: Dutch Masterpieces from National Trust Houses opens on May 25th 2018.
Neil Hennessy-Vass is Contributing Editor for Our Man On The Ground as well as a widely-published globetrotting food and travel writer and photographer.
Photographs by Neil Hennessy-Vass