The Queen’s Gallery in London has a new exhibition which opened last Friday called Masters of the Everyday. Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer. It is a celebration of Dutch 17th century painting, in particular famous old masters like Rembrandt, Gerrit Dou and Vermeer. All of the works are from the Royal Collection itself, except one exquisite Dou painting, which is on loan from the Mauritshuis in The Netherlands. This morning I went for a visit.
The exhibition gives a wonderful overview of 17th century Holland. The many Dutch artists who came over to England in the early 17th century and worked for the English courts, the genre painters who displayed such skill and precision, the sea battle scenes depicting the many Dutch - English encounters, the quiet domestic scenes and the crazy pub scenes by Jan Steen: it is all there and gives a wonderful and varied impression of 17th century Dutch culture. Considering the numerous wars with Holland, it is slightly ironic that we are seeing it all at the palace of the English Royal family, but when we think of the huge political interaction and cultural cross fertilisation between The Netherlands and England throughout the 17th century it might not be as odd as first impressions suggest. And, to be fair, the exhibition will travel to Holland in 2016 to be exhibited at one of the most important city palaces of the 17th century in The Hague: the Mauritshuis.
The lighting at the exhibition is strong and dramatic and although it sometimes makes the pictures hard to see (my short length makes the lights reflect in the paintings so I stand on tiptoe to avoid the glare), the effect is fabulous. I love a bit of theatrical drama and a sense of 'staging' in an exhibition and this one got it all. The walls are dark green or grey and the paintings as glowing jewels that pop off the walls. A couple of giant Delft blue tulip vases loom from their dark niches, and I wander from one painted treasure to the next underneath the beautiful ceilings of the gallery.
It is great to see some attention paid to prints: the portraits of various Dutch and English royals could compete in beauty with painted equivalents. There were also some wonderful drawings on display. I particularly loved the Hendrick Avercamp drawings as I did not know they existed and had never seen them before. Avercamp's ice skating scenes are loved by lots of Dutchies as they are so recognisable and typically Dutch. Although the clothing and games have changed, in my younger years I too had fun on the ice like Avercamps's figures did 400 years ago. They are wonderful little drawings and apparently there are 46 of them in the Royal Collection!
Why they used the name of Vermeer in the title is not quite clear to me (maybe I am wondering as I am not a huge fan of Vermeer’s interior scenes). Most likely it was to attract visitors who have not heard of Jan Steen or Gerrit Dou. There are more Rembrandts on display than paintings by anybody else (OK, so I did not count) so why not attract crowds with Rembrandt? I guess it is because all these amazing 17th century artists such as Dou, van Mieris, De Hooch and Steen depicted everyday life. And this is something Vermeer is especially famous for.
There is some China, furniture, a pair of wonderful and giant 17th century tulip vases, there are 18th century interior paintings (showing English Royal interiors with Dutch masters on the wall), 17th century prints and drawings but the vast majority is made up of 17th century oil paintings by great masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Dou, Steen, Van Mieris, Ter Borch etc. Portraits, figures and genre scenes is what captures the eye and heart. Still Lives are missing from the exhibition for some reason but all in all the exhibition is a true a feast for the eye.
Such wonderful fabric details:
Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer
The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace
Friday 13 November 2015 - Sunday 14 February 2016.
Buy the catalogue to the exhibition here
The exhibition will also be on show at The Queen's Gallery, The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, 4 March – 24 July 2016.
Over twenty works from the exhibition will be on display at the Mauritshuis, The Hague from September 2016 as part of the exhibition Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer, An exhibition from the British Royal Collection.
All images of art works ©Royal Collection
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