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Dutch Painters at the Frick

Posted by Susan Benford

An exhibition showcasing Dutch painters, titled Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis, opens at the Frick on October 22. Although this show vermeer girl pearl earring resized 600is a scaled-down version of Girl With a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis, which previously traveled to the De Young and High Art Museums, the Frick exhibition will showcase fifteen remarkable Dutch paintings.

The portraits, genre scenes, vanitas paintings and landscapes by these Dutch painters define the Dutch Golden Age. 

Johann Vermeer - Girl With a Pearl Earring

In the 17th century, Holland was the most urbanized and wealthy European country, with riches accumulated from its dominant maritime trade.  A popular means to demonstrate this newly found wealth was through portraiture, including a subset called tronies.  These bust-length portraits were

Right. Johann Vermeer.  Girl with a Pearl Earring, ca. 1665.  Oil on canvas, approximately 17 1/2" by 15".  Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague

studies of facial expressions and postures rather than exact likenesses of the sitter, who was often dressed in exotic clothing.

Indisputably, the most renowned tronie is Girl with a Pearl Earring. 

The full brilliance of Girl with a Pearl Earring is only realizable when one is able to study its 
rembrandt tronie man feathered beretdiversity of brushstrokes: those on the face of the girl, whose identity remains unknown, are smooth and yield her flawless skin, while those in her jacket collar are few, bold, and thickly painted.  The semicircular brushstrokes in her turban, atypical attire for 17th century Holland, are readily discernible.

Rembrandt.  "Tronie" of a Man with a Feathered Beret", 1634 - 40. Oil on panel, 5'3" by 3'11". Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague 

The Girl With a Pearl Earring is simply mesmerizing. No wonder she has earned her own room in all three U. S. venues.  

The Frick is uniquely positioned to add its own twist: Girl with a Pearl Earring will be shown near the three Vermeer paintings owned by the Frick, Girl Interrupted at Her Music (purchased in 1901 for $26,000), Officer and Laughing Girl (purchased in 1911 for $225,000), and Mistress and Maid

Rembrandt Paintings

Tronie of a Man with a Feathered Beret

The man in Tronie of a Man with a Feathered Beret (above right) turns toward the viewer as rembrandt susanna 1936 resized 600if preparing to speak.  Rembrandt's skill in capturing such spontaneous instances results from careful manipulation of light and shade, a talent apparent in many Rembrandt paintings, including his Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild of 1662.  

Remarkably, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69) conveys that the man with a feathered beret is arrogant, as if he deigns to regard the viewer.


Mythological and Biblical nudes such as Susanna recur in Rembrandt's work.  After disrobing in preparation for a bath, Susanna discovers two men, barely visible in the bushes, spying on her.  Embarrassed, she vainly shields her nakedness while gazing outward, as if the viewer were a complicit voyeur.

Rembrandt.  Susanna, 1636.  Oil on panel, approximately 19" by 15".  Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague 

Portrait of an Elderly Man

In one of Rembrandt's last dated portraits, an unknown, unkempt man, with an rembrandt portrait elderly man resized 600unbuttoned jacket and loose collar, is slumping in his chair. Typical of the style of later Rembrandt paintings, some of the work is rendered with precision while some is loosely executed.  

Rembrandt. Portrait of an Elderly Man, 1667. Approximately 2' 8" by 2' 3". Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague

Here, the elderly man's face is captured realistically, while his cuffs and hands are executed with only several decisive strokes.  Rembrandt even scratched into wet paint to create the sitter's hair.

Frans Hals - Jacob Olycan and Aletta Hanemans 

Frans Hals' (1582/83-1666) reputation as one of the leading portrait painters in the first half of the 17th century arose mainly from his talent in portraying sitters in a lively frans hals aletta hanemans resized 600manner, as evidenced by the paired, or pendant, portraits of Jacob Olycan and Aletta Hanemans.

Frans Hals.  Aletta Hanemans, 1625.  Approximately 4'1" by 3'2". Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague  

Frans Hals.  Jacob Olycan, 1625.  Approximately 4'1" by 3'2". Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague 

These portraits were likely commissioned to frans hals jacob olycancommemorate the couple's marriage in 1624 when Jacob, a beer maker, was 29 and Aletta was 19.  Their expensive clothing featuring brocade, lace and satin attests to their prosperity.

Pieter Claesz - Vanitas Still Life

The vanitas still life conveys a common theme in much of 17th century Dutch painting: time is fleeting, and rather than become attached to worldly goods, opt instead for a God-fearing lifestyle.

Each object in Vanitas Still Life conveys the finiteness of life, the passage of time, and the inevitability of death -  the crumbling book pages; the skull; a watch; and wispy smoke. The undeniable admonishment from Pieter Claesz (1596/97-1660) is to lead a virtuous life.  

Carel Fabritius - The Goldfinch

Carel Fabritius (1622-1654) is at last earning his due.

Historically overlooked as likely having been the teacher of Johann Vermeer, or simply as a link between he and Rembrandt,claesz vanitas still life resized 600 Fabritius is now applauded as one of the most accomplished Dutch painters of the Golden Age

Pieter Claesz.  Vanitas Still Life, 1630.  Oil on panel, approximately 15" by 22". Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague

His mastery of illusionism is exemplified by his diminutive painting, The Goldfinch.  The life-size bird, often kept as a pet in 17th century Holland, is tethered to its perch by a delicate chain.  The angle of the goldfinch and its perch suggests that The Goldfinch was to be hung high on a wall.  

Nicholas Maes - Old Lacemaker

Apprenticed to Rembrandt for several years, Nicholas Maes (1634-93) portrays here an idealized 17th century Dutch woman: from her orderly kitchen, she works studiously to make her own lace, indicating her feminine virtue.   

fabritius the goldfinch resized 600Compositionally, Maes located the lacemaker and cabinet parallel to the picture plane, which, along with a somber palette, contributes to the intimacy of this work. Below, right.  

Carel Fabritius. The Goldfinch, 1654. Oil on panel, approximately 13" by 9". Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Gerard ter Borch - Woman Writing a Letter

Ter Borch (1617-81) painted portraits and genre scenes of middle-class, affluent life in 17th century Holland.  He was intrigued by the effect of light and shade, and was renowned for his skill in painting textures, especially satin.

That skill is apparent in Woman Writing a Letter.  The heft of the oriental rug is palpable, while the light reflecting from the woman's dress and earring are perfectly executed.  Below, left.

Jan Steen

As the Old Sing, So Twitter the Young

Jan Steen (1626-1679) was a highly regarded genre painter who portrayed the middle class instead of the upper and royal classes often painted by contemporary Dutch painters. In many of his nearly 800 paintings, Steen offers a moral lesson, typically as straightforward as that in As the Old Sing, So Twitter the Young: children often replicate the behaviors modeled by adults, so it's best to lead one's life accordingly.

Read more about As the Old Sing, So Writter the Young.

 Girl Eating Oysters

At first glance, this stunning still life is a simple scene of a young girl eating oysters on a table holding a Delft pitcher, a tray with a partially eaten roll, a pile of salt and a paper cone with peppercorns spilling from it.  

But in the mid 17th century when Steen painted Girl Eating Oysters, they were widely considered aphrodisiacs.  So this seemingly innocent, flirtatious girl is loaded with sexual innuendo, further reinforced by the bedroom with a curtained window behind her.  Below, right.

Jacob van Ruysdael - View of Haarlem from the Bleaching Grounds 

Considered the most accomplished landscape painter of the Dutch Golden Age, Jacob ter borch woman writing lettervan Ruysdael (ca. 1629-82) was noted for his realistic sky and clouds, as exemplified by View of Haarlem from the Bleaching Grounds - the firmament occupies  2/3 of this Ruysdael painting.

Gerard ter Borch.  Woman Writing a Letter, ca. 1655.  Oil on panel, approximately 15" by 11".  Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague

The subtle gradation in his clouds creates a credible sky with the sun breaking through to the pure dune water; it was believed to be the best possible to bleach local linens. See below, right.

Adriaen Coorte - Still Life with Five Apricots

Still Life with Five Apricots (below, left) is typical of over 60 signed paintings by Adriaen Coorte (ca. 1665-1707/10), which often are:

  • small in scale;
  • of fruits or vegetables, with occasional shells or nuts; 
  • displayed on a stone table; and
  • brilliantly illuminated against a dark background.
Steen Girl Eating Oysters

Nearly nothing is known of Coorte's life, including the year and location of his birth and death, and even whether he supported himself as a painter; it is known that he was penalized in 1696 for selling his work without being a member of the local painters' guild.

Jan Steen.  Girl Eating Oysters, ca. 1658-60.  Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis runs October 22, 2013 to January 19, 2014. 

Jacob van Ruysdael. View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds. Oil on canvas, 1670-1675. Approx. 22" by 24". Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.

ruisdael view haarlem bleaching grounds















Adriaen Coorte.  Still Life with Five Apricots, 1704.  Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.

 Coorte Still life with five apricots resized 600









Topics: Dutch painters, masterpieces of Dutch painting

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