Frans Hals Museum

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Frans Haals is probably best known in the UK as the painter of the Laughing Cavalier, which is owned by the Wallace Collection in London. 

He was born in Antwerp some time between 1581 and 1585, but his family fled from the Spaniards in 1585 and settled in Haarlem where he grew up and made his reputation as a painter of society portraits. There’s a museum in the town dedicated to his work, so we decided to visit while we were in Haarlem.

The museum is located in the Haarlem Oude Mannenhuis –  a former Alms house built in the 17th century for elderly men of the town. It’s quite an impressive old building, with four wings surrounding a central courtyard. Unfortunately we couldn’t access the courtyard to have a proper look, but I managed to snap a photograph through one of the windows. Originally, there were thirty small houses, each inhabited by two elderly men; over 60 years old, who had to be single and  “honest Haarlem residents”

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Some of the rooms inside were quite grand, with antique clocks and furniture on display

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The entry fee was rather steep at 20 Euros, but this was partly due to a 5 Euro supplement being applied to fund the temporary exhibition The Art of Laughter, which explored different aspects of humour in Dutch “Golden Age” paintings. There were 53 works on display by artists including Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jan Steen and Judith Leyster.

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Courtesan by Gerard van Honthorst

Moving into the permanent exhibition, there was a large room with paintings of members of the local militia (rather like Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch)

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Other paintings in the collection included the Portrait of Jacobus Zafius (1611), one of the first portraits painted by Hals

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and his Self Portrait with a Lute (1663/5)

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There were three major paintings on display that had recently been restored – group portraits of the female and male Regents of the very Alms houses we were in.and which have recently been restored. The female Regents looked very serious and rather grim..

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The men clearly full of their own importance

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The third portrait featured the Regents of the St Elizabeth’s Hospital

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A documentary film was showing about the restoration, which looked very interesting. Unfortunately, the commentary was only in Dutch.

While we were looking around the Art of Laugher exhibition, I’d spotted comments scribbled on a number of the information panels accompanying the paintings, some of them quite irreverent and risqué. Initially I thought they’d been done by some irreverent visitor, but the joke was on me as the gallery had commissioned an artist to do these as part of the exhibition – it was about humour, after all! Unfortunately the snaps I took didn’t come out well.

The same artist, Nedko Solakov had also created some “Shadow Doodles” in the permanent exhibition. These were humorous little drawings and comments  scribbled around the shadows cast by picture frames and other objects.

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There was more to see, in particular the exhibition Rendez-Vous with Frans Hals. Unfortunately time was beginning to run out. Although our flight back to Manchester wasn’t until quite late, we had arranged to see our daughter for one last time during this trip. So we headed over to the station to catch the bus back to Amsterdam.

Rembrandt and the Dutch golden age in Sydney

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Although entry to the collections at the Gallery of NSW is free, as is often the case there’s a charge for the major temporary exhibitions. While we were queuing at the desk at the  to buy tickets for  Rembrandt and the Dutch golden age – Masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum we got chatting with a couple of locals. Recognising that we were English they remarked that they were surprised that we were paying to see works when we could nip over the channel to Amsterdam to visit the Rijksmuseum itself. That’s true for although it isn’t just around the corner (!) we have been to Amsterdam a few times lately and have visited the museum we explained that we still felt it was worth it. The Rijksmuseum is huge and there is so much to see that it’s hard to take everything in. so here was a chance to see a good curated collection that we could take the time to look at. This turned out to be the case.

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There were two “star paintings” – one by Rembrandt and the other by Vermeer – that were included in the exhibition, but many of the other 76 works were less well known.  Of course, Australians being so far from Europe and with only limited numbers of works by major European artists in the country, don’t get much opportunity to experience so many paintings from the Dutch Golden Age all together in Sydney.

The exhibition included examples of all the different types of paintings from the Golden age including portraits, landscapes, winter scenes, genre paintings and still lives. There was a free audio guide included in the entrance fee narrated by Miriam Margolyes.

Surprisingly for an exhibition of this nature, photographs were allowed and I took a few shots. This almost certainly wouldn’t have been allowed at galleries in the UK. Here’s a few shots I took

A portrait by Frans Hals – we’d missed out on visiting the gallery devoted to his work in his home town of Haarlem during our trip to the Netherlands in October.

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“Portrait of Feyntje van Steenkiste” (1635) by Frans Hals

A couple of winter scenes

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“View of the church of Slotten in the winter” (c 1660) by Jan Abrahamsz Beerstrate

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“River view in the winter” (1655-60) by Aert Van der Neer

Included in a room full of naval paintings, a model ship (there’s plenty of these in the Rijksmuseum)

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A flower painting

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“Still life with flowers in a glass vase” (c1665-70) by Jan Davidsz de Heem

A portrait by Gerard Dou

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“Portrait of an old woman reading” (c1631-32) by Gerard Dou

Then there was a room full of Rembrandt paintings and a selection of 16 etchings.

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and then this beautiful little painting by Vermeer.

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Although busy, the exhibition wasn’t over crowed and it was possible to get close to the paintings and spend some time looking at them. Later on a few tour groups turned up and, as is usually the case, they all grouped around the key paintings while their guide wittered on, preventing others from getting a view. But they soon moved on.

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Performance Art at the NGI

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Just after I’d arrived at the National Gallery of Ireland on Sunday and was starting to explore (I had a couple of hours before my time slot for the main exhibition), when I wandered into the Shaw room, a rather grand large room close to the Merion Square entrance, it was clear something was going on. I could see a group of people with musical instruments who were clearly setting up to perform and several people setting up easels.

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It didn’t take me long to suss out what was going on. Like most Galleries holding major exhibitions, the National Gallery of Ireland has held a number of events to accompany the Vermeer and Masters of Genre Painting Exhibition, and this was one of them.

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Many of the paintings in the exhibition feature musicians and musical instruments from the Dutch “Golden Age”– virginals, lutes, harpsichords, violas and the like as well as singers. So the Gallery had organised a collaborative event – Performance Art – with the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) and the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). Musicians from the RIAM performed music from the Dutch Golden Age on instruments of the time, while members of the RHA had set up their easels so they record the scene live – sketching and drawing.

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A good crowd gathered to watch the musicians and the artists at work. It was an enjoyable event and I stayed for a good hour, only leaving because it was getting close to my time slot to see the exhibition.

The musicians were Catriona O’Mahony playing baroque violin, Miriam Kaczor who played the recorder and baroque flute,

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David Adams on harpsichord, Andrew Robinson, who played the viol and lute,

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who also told us a little about the instruments and the type of music that was played during the Golden Age

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and soprano Clodagh Kinsella.

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The artists were Una Sealy, Blaise Smith, Cian Mcloughlin, Sean Molloy and Comnghall Casey. They didn’t seem to be at all put off by everyone watching them at work and taking photographs.

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The Dutch Golden Age at the Rijksmuseum

Not surprisingly, the Rijksmuseum has an extensive collection of works of art from the Dutch Golden Age, that period during the the 17th century, when the Netherlands were a world power and this was reflected Dutch trade, prosperity and achievements in science and art. Besides the paintings displayed in the “Gallery of Honour”, the second floor of the museum has many examples of paintings, sculpture, ceramics, furniture and other objects from the period.

I was particularly interested in the collection of genre paintings, especially those by two of my favourite Golden Age artists, Gabriel Metsu and Gerard ter Borch.

Metsu lived in Leiden until 1657, when he moved to Amsterdam, living in an alley on Prinsengracht. Most of his pictures are genre scenes but he also painted religious subjects portraits and still lives.  There were several works by him on display, including this domestic scene where a hunter is offering a bird he has shot to a young woman distracting her from her sewing.

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The Hunter’s Present (c1658-61) Gabriel Metsu

According to the Rijksmuseum website, during the 17th century ‘vogelen’ (literally ‘to bird’) had a particular meaning so his intentions may not be entirely honourable!

I particularly liked this painting of an elderly woman

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Old Woman Meditating (c1661-63) Gabriel Metsu

It has something of a photographic quality. Her face and hands are skilfully rendered and her expression suggests she is concentrating on the devotional text – or is she nodding off?

Gerard ter Borch was born in Zwolle and lived in Amsterdam and Haarlem later settling in in Deventer. His genre paintings often showed figures in domestic interiors making music, reading or writing letters, and drinking. I’d first come across his work at the “Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence” exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in January 2012.  I think he is particularly skilled at painting silks and satin, bringing out the sheen very effectively. His sister Gesina often modelled for him and I think she appears in both of these two paintings displayed at the Rijksmuseum.

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Gallant Conversation, known as “The Parental Admonition” (c1654) Gerard ter Borch

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Seated Girl in Peasant Costume (c1650-60) Gerard ter Borch

Finally, I’d seen the following picture before.

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Woman at her Toilet (c 1655 – 60) Jan Havicksz Steen

It had featured in the “Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence” exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Besides the paintings there was a variety of other objects from the “Golden Age” which painted a picture of life during that prosperous period – at least for the wealthier classes.

The collection included three dolls’ houses that provide a detailed view of how affluent houses were once furnished. The most famous was one that was owned by Petronella Oortman of Amsterdam. It was seeing this very house that had inspired Jessie Burton to write her novel The Minituarist which is set in Golden Age Amsterdam.

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The picture (from the Rijksmuseum website) doesn’t give a proper impression of the house which was at least 2 metres high. The website tells us that

In the 17th century, dolls’ houses were not toys; they were a hobby, the equivalent for women of the collection cabinets kept by men.

The wealth of the Golden Age was mainly accumulated through trade. The Netherlands was a major sea power (and rival to the emerging British Empire) with colonies overseas, particularly the Far East. There was a Gallery devoted to Dutch sea power on the second floor which included this magnificent model of a 17th Century warship, the William Rex

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There was also a gallery full of models of ships on the ground floor of the museum

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None as large as the William Rex, however.

Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum

There are only 34 paintings attributed to Vermeer. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has 4 of them – more than 10% of the total. They’re displayed in the “Gallery of Honour”, just a few metres from Rembrandt’s works. My early start to my visit meant I was able to see the paintings without being obstructed by too many people, but there was already a cluster of people, such is Vermeer’s popularity. This wasn’t always the case – he was largely unknown until the 1860s when French art critic and left-wing politician Théophile Thoré-Bürger published a series of articles eulogizing the painter’s forgotten works.

Vermeer’s works are very different from Rembrandt’s. They are much smaller for a start – which makes it difficult to get a look in when the gallery is busy. His brushwork is fine and meticulous, unlike Rembrandt whose brushwork in his later paintings was much coarser. His paintings are full of light and bright colours (with extensive use of the expensive lapis lazuli ultramarine blue) unlike the works by many of his contemporaries which are often rather dark and gloomy. And Vermeer didn’t go in for grandiose historical and biblical subjects, he concentrated on middle class domestic scenes.

Two of the Rijksmuseum’s Vermeers, like the one in the Irish National Gallery,  depict women reading letters

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Woman Reading a Letter (c 1663)

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The Love Letter (c. 1669 – c. 1670)

He even painted domestic servants going about their work. This painting of a milk maid is probably one of his best known works.

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The Milkmaid (c. 1660)

The Rijkmuseum’s fourth work by Vermeer is a street scene

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View of Houses in Delft, Known as The Little Street (c. 1658)

This is an unusual painting in Vermeer’s oeuvre, and remarkable for its time as a portrait of ordinary houses. The composition is as exciting as it is balanced. The old walls with their bricks, whitewash, and cracks are almost tangible. The location is Vlamingstraat 40–42 in Delft. Vermeer’s aunt Ariaentgen Claes lived in the house at the right, with her children, from around 1645 until her death in 1670. (Rijksmuseum website)

Four marvellous paintings.