Dutch Golden Age

Florence had the Renaissance, Vienna had its Classical Period, Paris had its Belle Epoch and the salons of the 1920’s, and New York was a hotbed of modern art in the World War II and post-war period.   Amsterdam in the 17th century was one of those cities that experienced a moment in time, attracting artists who inspired and influenced one another, creating new and original art forms.

Simon Jacobszoon de Vlieger, The Flagship Aemilia Fires a Salute for Admiral Maerten Harpertszoon Tromp

The movement that sprang up in Amsterdam arose from the economic success borne of the 80 Years’ War.  Strategically located, the nation controlled access to the Baltic Sea and charged hefty duty to foreign ships passing through.  They established their own marine silk trade routes.   The Dutch nation became one of the wealthiest and most powerful in the world, dominating international trade and creating a vast colonial empire.   Tne upper middle class surged in the strong economy and it was at this time the Dutch built their world-famous canal system, so impressing Russian Czar Peter I that he patterned his new capital, St. Petersburg, after it.  You see it as soon as you arrive in “Peter” – canals (which absorbed the wet lowlands) down the centre of lovely mansion-lined streets.


Still Life with Flowers, Willem van Aelst, 1665

With all the new-found money and painters arriving in Amsterdam, it was little wonder the Dutch Golden Age of painting was just around the corner.


The Netherlands’ religion changed too, and this had a powerful effect on the art world.  The Netherlands declared independence from the Catholic Hapsburg Empire and the protestant religion took its place.   With the end of Catholicism, a new and unprecedented freedom replaced the genre of religious art with several different styles.  Landscapes, portraiture, “genre painting” (simple domestic bliss), and still life blossomed.  Some of the most famous artists of all time painted during the Dutch Golden Age, including Rembrandt and Vermeer.

Still Life with Dog, Monkey and Parrot, Adriaen van Utrecht

My day was so packed today, I’m posting in two parts.  The Dutch state museum, the Rijksmuseum houses Rembrandt’s most famous painting known as The Night Watch.  I spent much of the day at the Rijk, taking a guided tour.  And, although much later in history, one cannot overlook perhaps Amsterdam’s most famous citizen, Vincent van Gogh.  I visited the Van Gogh Museum first, the largest collection of his work in the world, housing some of his most famous and important paintings.

Van Gogh (1853-1890)

Real painters do not paint things as they are…
they paint them as they themselves feel them to be.

– Vincent van Gogh


What more needs to be said about the iconic tortured artist, Vincent Van Gogh?  I’ve seen “Starry Night” at MOMA which is so representative of his luscious, flowing, late work, but since my teens reading the book, Lust for Life, by Irving Stone (one of my favourite reads of all time), I have wanted to go to Amsterdam to see his early work, The Potato Eaters.  He was in a state of fervent activity, young, poor, but compelled to reproduce everything he saw, producing many sketches per day.   The farm labourers in the Netherlands, achingly depicted in the resulting painting, were almost caricatures.  He expressed in this painting the connection of the poor peasants to the land, their work-weary hands central to the picture.  But when he sent the work to his brother Theo, the art dealer said, no, you have to come to Paris and see what Monet, Gaugin and the others are doing with colour and light, you need to start again!  In the end, it was not long in Paris before his fellow painters influenced him and he started using colour and light in new ways too.  I still love this one, though, the faces tell the whole story of the people.


In addition to seeing his paintings, some of the best ways to capture how van Gogh  strove to convey his emotional and spiritual state in each of his paintings came in recent films. The visually beautiful animated film Loving Vincent (on Netflix)




and the recent depiction by Willem Dafoe in the film At Eternity’s Gate, which captured his life so beautifully in film sets drenched in yellow.










“His post-Impressionist style, canvases with densely laden,
visible brushstrokes rendered in a bright, opulent palette
emphasize Van Gogh’s personal expression brought to life
in paint. Each painting provides a direct sense of how the
artist viewed each scene, interpreted through his eyes,
mind, and heart, just as he intended. This radically
idiosyncratic, emotionally evocative style has continued
to affect artists and movements throughout the 20th
century and up to the present day, guaranteeing Van Gogh’s
importance far into the future.”

                                                                           – The Artstory.org

It’s amazing to be reminded that van Gogh only painted for about seven years, and in that time he created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of which date from the last two years of his life.   The gallery also houses one of his five Sunflower paintings, his Vase with Irises and his Bedroom at Arles, to name a few.


No photography is permitted here, but here is an image of his Almond Blossom – you can see his love of Japanese art here.  He painted this as a gift for his brother and sister-in-law on the arrival of their first child.  The couple named him Vincent after his uncle.



Vincent – the nephew – eventually inherited the van Gogh estate from his mother and he almost immediately began negotiations with the Dutch government to subsidise a foundation to purchase and house the entire collection.  He participated in planning the project in the hope that the works would be exhibited under the best possible conditions. The project began in 1963; architect Gerrit Rietveld was commissioned to design it, and after the architect’s death in 1964, Kisho Kurokawa took charge.  Work progressed throughout the 1960s, with 1972 as the target for its grand opening.

The Van Gogh Museum opened in the Museumplein in Amsterdam in 1973.  It quickly became the second most popular museum in the Netherlands, after the Rijksmuseum, regularly receiving more than 1.5 million visitors a year.




1 thought on “Dutch Golden Age

  1. Hi Jan,

    This is the next post I want to comment on. I have some tales to tell regarding The Potato Eaters. On our 2008 visit to Amsterdam we visited the Van Gogh Museum one evening, and spent quite a bit of time looking at the painting, as well as the other early paintings in that room. We returned to the museum the next morning to continue our visit, started in the same room, and noticed a blank wall where The Potato Eaters had been. We queried one of the guards, and he told us that the painting had been removed during the night, and was off to Vienna for a special exhibit!

    Fast forward to our 2015 visits. In May, The Potato Eaters was conspicuously absent from the Van Gogh, as were several other of the famous paintings. A notice explained that these works were in Norway, as part of a special exhibition on Van Gogh and Munch. When we returned in October, this exhibit had returned for its stint in Amsterdam (in the annex to the Van Gogh Museum), so we were able to reacquaint ourselves with The Potato Eaters. It was an excellent exhibit, as these two artists have much in common.

    Suffice to say, The Potato Eaters appears to be an especially elusive painting – consider yourself lucky that it was in residence during your visit.

    In your post on the Rijks, I was interested to read (and see the photo) that they are working on The Night Watch in full view. What a great idea! One can see the restoration process, and still view the painting. You may not have made it to Rembrandtplein – statues have been created of The Night Watch characters, making a 3-D version of the painting. It is very cool! I am attaching photos.

    All for now,



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