The 2013-14 exhibition, Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch  Paintings from the Mauritshuis, presented works of renowned Dutch painters – and a curated guide to many famous paintings to see at this museum!

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

According to Emilie Gordenker, director of the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague:

What you get from this exhibition is an overview of Dutch paintings at the hand of the very best examples you can imagine.”

Among the Dutch painters featured are:

  • the other two leading Dutch painters of the Delft school, Pieter de Hooch and Carel Fabritius
  • Jacob van Ruysdael, (or Ruisdael) the most prominent landscape painter of the Dutch Golden Age;
  • Rembrandt; and
  • Jan Steen.

Here’s a look at these famous Dutch painters (and here’s more about Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring):

Carel Fabritius (1622-1654)

Although often undersold as a link between Rembrandt and Vermeer – or merely as the teacher of the better known Vermeer – Carel Fabritius (1622-1654) is becoming recognized as one of the most accomplished Dutch painters of the Golden Age.

Fabritius’ life was cut tragically short by a munitions explosion and fire that destroyed a quarter of Delft, levelling homes, killing individuals, and flattening Fabritius’ studio and destroying most of his works. Two of the few remaining Fabritius paintings are View of Delft and The Goldfinch, both of which showcase his brilliance in creating optical effects.

Believed to have been designed for a perspective box, or a “peepshow” cylindrical optical device used to simulate an interior space, View from Delft shows a vendor of musical instruments with a viola da gamba and lute in the foreground. If this painting were mounted onto a curved canvas, its foreshortening would disappear.

Carel Fabritius. View from Delft, 1652. 3’3″ by 6’9″. National Gallery, London.

Fabritius’ skill with illusionistic effects, in demand from wealthy patrons, is further demonstrated in his painting, The Goldfinch (above right) one of the other stars of Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis. In this diminutive work, approximately 12″ by 9″, Fabritius paints to scale a goldfinch against a creamy, crumbling plaster wall. The bird, shackled to its perch by a looping, delicate chain, was likely kept as a household pet, many of which were taught to perform tricks.

The sharp angle at which the bird is painted and the angle of the box suggest that The Goldfinch was intended to hang high on a wall. Carel Fabritius’ extraordinary trompe l’oeil creates such a convincing effect that one is tempted to touch the bird.

Pieter de Hooch (1628-1684)

In A Man Smoking and a Woman Drinking in a Courtyard, Pieter de Hooch combines a genre painting and a landscape painting in which the clothing provides clues to the identities of the subjects. The man’s attire suggests that he is the homeowner, while the simpler clothing of the woman suggests she is his servant. The figure on the right, although wearing a skirt, is actually a boy; it was typical for boys to wear skirts until the age of five.

Pieter de Hooch. A Man Smoking and a Woman Drinking, 1658-1660. Oil on canvas, approximately 31″ by 26″. Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.

The textural detail in A Man Smoking and a Woman Drinking in a Courtyard is remarkable: the brick courtyard is convincingly worn, uneven and bumpy.

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

Jacob van Ruysdael (1628/29 – 1682)

View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds demonstrates why Ruysdael was considered the best Dutch landscape painter in the Dutch Golden Age. Although View of Haarlem captures the dunes and pastures typical of the Dutch landscape, it’s really all about sky and clouds, which command nearly 2/3 of the canvas.

Clouds range from threatening gray to luminous white, with sunshine breaking through to fields of white linen bleaching in the sun.

Because water from these dunes was pure, bleaching fields like this surrounded 17th century Haarlem.


In the 17th century, a “tronie” was a headshot portrait in which the sitter often wore a costumer or unusual garb (Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring is likely the best known tronie). Rembrandt’s “Tronie of a Man with a Feathered Beret” delivers a portrait of a pompous man, turned toward the viewer as if on the verge of speaking. Rembrandt flaunts his skill with light and shade to capture a seemingly spontaneous moment.

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

Unlike many aging painters, Rembrandt continued to innovate and produce remarkable works.

Among these are his Portrait of an Elderly Man of 1667, painted two years before his death and one of Rembrandt’s last dated portraits.

The unknown, unshaven sitter is slouching in his chair, with an unbuttoned jacket and untied collar. While his face is rendered with exacting precision, Rembrandt created the sitter’s hands and cuffs with a few decisive strokes, even scratching into wet paint to create the sitter’s hair.

Portrait of an Elderly Man, 1667.
Approximately 2′ 8″ by 2′ 3″.
Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague

Even toward the end of his career, Rembrandt was able to capture the essence of his sitter, making faces feel real and contemplative.

Jan Steen (ca. 1626 – 1679)

Jan Steen, a son-in-law and pupil of Jan van Goyen, was a highly regarded Dutch genre painter who portrayed the lives of the Dutch middle class, whereas most works of the time featured the royal and upper classes.

In many of his nearly 800 works, Steen provides an underlying moral lesson, as seen in As the Old Sing, so Twitter the Young.

 Jan Steen.  As the Old Sing, So Twitter the Young, ca. 1665.  Approximately 53″ by 64″.  Royal Picture Gallery, Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Here, a jovial christening feast has run amok, although the adults are seemingly too busy having fun to notice.

The grownups appear inebriated, and one is even offering alcohol to a child while other children smoke pipes. Steen inserted himself and his children into many paintings – the Rijksmuseum claims that he is likely the bagplayer near the window.

The moral lesson of As the Old Sing, so Twitter the Young isn’t subtle but is timeless – because children mimic parents and other adults, it’s wise to consider the behavior one is modelling. Or twittering!

Who do you consider to be the most accomplished Dutch Golden Age painter? Or the most impressive Golden Age painting? Perhaps these posts about Dutch painters will provide answers:

Do tell!