Salomon van Ruysdael’s River Landscape wit a Ferry, a Yacht, and other Vessels, with a View of Gorinchem in the Distance, 1647
By Grace Kennedy – Senior, Convent of the Sacred Heart, Greenwich
It’s a quiet Saturday afternoon at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich. I sigh in relief, as this is the first time I’ve had in weeks to take a break from schoolwork and college applications. I cross the gallery from the Science Discovery wing to a new collection. I approach the first work, a still life that displays the decadent food from a banquet. I stare at it, realizing that somehow, it looks very familiar. The work’s name is Banquet Still Life, 1620, by Abraham van Beyeren. I move on to the next work and stare in recognition. The work’s name is Winter Landscape with Skaters at Sunset, 1603, by Aert van der Neer. Why didn’t I realize this before? These are Dutch oil paintings!
I have grown up learning about the Dutch masters all my life. I am a 5th generation Dutch artist, beginning with my great-great grandfather. My grandmother is currently a professional oil painter who grew up in Rotterdam, Holland. I learned all about art from her, who always had a penchant for the Dutch masters. She taught me about different painting techniques, applications, and genres. For the last 5 years, I have assisted in promoting her work through marketing and exhibitions. So, I was thrilled to engage with this familiar “Northern Baroque Splendor. The HOHENBUCHAU COLLECTION from: LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vienna” that revealed much of what she has taught me.
The “Golden Age” of painting is classified by 17th century Baroque art produced by Dutch and Flemish artists rendering naturalism. This Golden Age of painting also coincided with the Eighty Years War, in which Protestant Holland won independence from the Catholic Spanish rulers that governed Flanders. Once liberated, the Dutch became extremely wealthy and art flourished, so this collection is a wonderful representation of the time period.
The Hohenbuchau Exhibition features 64 paintings which represent nearly all the genres of the Dutch and Flemish 17th century paintings- landscapes and seascapes, historical and hunting scenes, portraits and still lifes, as well as the transition to Genre painting with scenes of everyday life. During that time, there was a fundamental shift in the subject of paintings from purely religious scenes toward an appreciation of beauty in everyday life and everyday people. Also, since paintings were no longer produced exclusively for churches and palaces, saleable paintings became smaller and more accessible to the public. A wonderful variety of paintings from the visible world at that time portray a richness and diversity of symbolic images. The realistic renderings grab your attention by evoking the emotions of that era.
The Exhibition begins with several religious paintings from the early 17th century, which reflect the strong influence of the church in art. The Penitent Mary Magdalene, 1613, by Cornelius van Haarlem, was a message to increase Catholic devotion to the sacraments through penance. Portrait of a Capuchin Monk by Peter Paul Rubens, a devout Catholic who portrayed monks often in his works, was symbolic of the power of the clergy at that time. There is also a striking painting by Pieter de Grebber, Prayer before the Meal, 1635, which became popular for portraiture and genre painting, because it reinforced ideas of family for moral instruction.
The Dutch landscape tradition began in the early 16th century with panoramic country scenes celebrating nature with warm glowing light. A beautiful example of this is Salomon van Ruysdael’s River Landscape wit a Ferry, a Yacht, and other Vessels, with a View of Gorinchem in the Distance, 1647. Ruysdael repeatedly focused on river views with vessels and the traditional wispy Dutch sky. Another piece by Aert van der Neer, Winter Landscape with Skaters at Sunset, reflects the quintessential Dutch winter landscape with windmills, skaters, and grey-lit winter atmosphere. My favorite is Rimon de Vlieger’s seascape, Dutch Merchantmen in Rough Seas off a Rocky Coast, 1600- a large vessel tilts on impact from the waves, drenched men crowd in a rowboat, the ocean reveals its threatening power, but somehow there is a sense of tranquility in a work of chaos.
For the genre paintings, my favorite portrait in this Exhibition is Michael Swerts, Portrait of an Old Man Begging. Swerts is known for painting peasants and beggars with dignity and compassion, and the painting reveals a distinct authenticity of the time that touches your heart with warmth. Another impactful genre painter, Gerard Dou, captures artificial illumination in his nighttime scenes. Dou assembled scenes with symbolism and poignantly captures the lifestyles of the common man.
So, when you have a few moments, head over to the Bruce Museum to peruse this outstanding Exhibition, which not only features several outstanding individual paintings, but the overall collection makes a memorable impression on the mood and style of the Golden Age of Baroque paintings.