An exhibition showcasing Dutch painters, titled Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis, opens at the Frick on October 22, 2013. Although this show is 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 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
diversity 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.
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.
Tronie of a Man with a Feathered Beret
The man in Tronie of a Man with a Feathered Beret (above left) turns toward the viewer as if 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.
Portrait of an Elderly Man
In one of Rembrandt’s last dated portraits, an unknown, unkempt man, with an unbuttoned 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.
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 manner, as evidenced by the paired, or pendant, portraits of Jacob Olycan and Aletta Hanemans.
These portraits were likely commissioned to commemorate 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 (below right) 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 Claesz 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 only been the teacher of Johann Vermeer, or simply as a link between he and Rembrandt,Fabritius is now applauded as one of the most accomplished Dutch painters of the Golden Age.
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 (below left) was to be hung high on a wall.
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 (below right), 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.
Jacob van Ruysdael – View of Haarlem from the Bleaching Grounds
Considered the most accomplished landscape painter of the Dutch Golden Age, Jacob van 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.
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.