Painting and sculpture of the Netherlands. The 17th century, when the country became independent, was the great age of Dutch painting. Among the many artists of this period were Rembrandt
; Willem Kalf, who excelled at still lifes; Adriaen van Ostade, who painted Flemish peasant scenes; Gerard Terborch the Younger, the first painter of characteristic Dutch interiors; Albert Cuyp
; Jakob van Ruisdael
, who specialized in landscapes; Jan Steen
; Pieter de Hooch
; Jan Vermeer
; Willem van de Velde, sea painter to Charles II of England; and Meindert Hobbema
. Despite the quality and abundance of art produced in the Netherlands in the 17th century, there was a marked decline in Dutch art during the 18th and 19th centuries. This was reversed with the arrival of the expressionist genius, Vincent van Gogh
in the late 19th century, and the abstract painter Piet Mondrian
in the 20th century.
The emergence and growth of the country as a great centre of artistic production ran parallel with the development of the country as an independent state. The northern and southern Netherlands (today's Holland and Belgium), were united under Spanish rule until 1579 when seven of the northern provinces (Friesland, Gelderland, Groningen, Overijssel, Utrecht, Zeeland, and Holland) formed an alliance. Holland, the largest and most important of the seven provinces, gave its name to the whole confederation, and after a heroic struggle won independence from Spain. The freedom of the newly formed confederation was acknowledged in the Twelve Years' Truce (1609). Although war with Spain began again in 1621, the complete triumph of the Dutch nation was marked with the Peace of Munster at the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648. The sense of national pride that grew with this hard but victorious fight for independence conditioned and influenced the nature of Dutch art in the 17th century.
The Middle Ages
Before the emergence of Holland as a nation state, there was little distinction between the art of the northern and southern Netherlands (Flemish art
). Although there were important artists who could strictly be called Dutch rather than Flemish, they were somewhat isolated and often worked outside their native land. During the Middle Ages influences from the two powerful neighbours of the Netherlands, France and Germany, dominated the country's art. Most important to Netherlandish artists in the 15th century, was the patronage and support of the dukes of Burgundy, whose court was in Dijon. The style of the Middle Ages reflected the common interest in religious art, with many artists producing altarpieces and other religious paintings in a realistic style. At this time the northern Netherlands was an artistic backwater and most of the artists born there moved south to find work. One such artist was Claus Sluter, a highly influential sculptor who was born in Haarlem, but worked mainly in Dijon. The painters Dirk Bouts, also from Haarlem, and Gerard David from Oudewater both moved south and worked in Louvain and Bruges respectively. Aelbert van Ouwater and his pupil tot Sint Jans Geertgen were two of the more noteworthy Dutch-born artists of the 15th century to work largely in their country of origin, but little is known of their careers. Jan van Eyck was the most prominent.
Renaissance influence and development of Mannerism
Italian Renaissance influence began to make itself felt in the northern Netherlands in the early 16th century, and is evident in the work of Jan Mostaert and Cornelis Engelbrechtsen (14681533), and in a more assured manner in the work of Lucas van Leyden
. Jan van Scorel was the first Dutch artist to travel extensively in Italy, and he successfully assimilated Italian elements into his style. Among his pupils were Maerten van Heemskerck (14981574) and Anthonis Mor, both of whom owed much to sojourns in Italy. Heemskerck is one of the main representatives of Mannerism
, which became the dominant style throughout the Netherlands during the 16th century. Mannerism copied the style of Italian painting, while deliberately trying to break classic rules. It aimed to achieve discord rather than harmony in its paintings, and tried to create new effects. Haarlem and Utrecht were the main centres of Mannerist painting in the northern Netherlands. The Mannerist painters Abraham Bloemaert (15641651) and Joachim Wtewael (c.
15661636) worked principally in Utrecht. Also in these centres, partly in reaction to Mannerism, emerged the naturalism that was to be such a distinctive characteristic of Dutch art, beginning with the realistic paintings, in the style of Caravaggio, of Gerrit van Honthorst and and Hendrick Jansz Terbrugghen in Utrecht. Other leading figures around the turn of the century include the history painter Pieter Lastman, the teacher of Rembrandt, in Amsterdam; and Frans Hals
in Haarlem. It is Hals who marks the coming of age of 17th-century Dutch painting as a great national school.
The national pride which grew with the fight for independence largely conditioned the nature of Dutch art in the 17th century. Religious, mythological, or historical works had little appeal for the mainly Protestant Dutch, who favoured works that expressed pride in their country. Such self-congratulation was expressed in landscapes, townscapes, and marine paintings (Holland became the leading sea power in the 17th century), and works that glorified their bourgeois culture, such as portraits, genre scenes, and still lifes. The country was not affected by foreign influences, which meant that Holland developed originality in both style and subject matter. There were no great patrons in the church or aristocracy to dictate artistic taste. Art was not the exclusive territory of a cultured minority, but of a large and prosperous middle class, and most of the paintings produced for them were quite small, suiting houses and lifestyles that were comfortable but not extravagant. Also notable was the esteem given by ordinary people to works of art. Paintings were rarely commissioned but were instead sold like any other merchandise.
The output of painting produced was vast, as was the number of artists producing it. Numerous artists worked in more than one field, but most 17th-century Dutch painters tended to confine their activities to a fairly narrow area. Paulus Potter specialized in animal paintings; Melchior Hondecoeter in representations of birds; Pieter van Laar (c.
15851642) (Bamboccio) developed his own popular and influential style of low-life genre scenes in a landscape or townscape setting; and Philips Wouwermans employed his skill in painting horses in small-scale pictures of cavalry skirmishes and hunting parties.
stands apart from all other Dutch artists through his range of subject matter, power of imagination, his versatility, and depth of expression. Particularly in his late religious works and portraits he showed a compassion, humility, and profound spiritual reverence for human life which place him among the greatest artists in any medium. He was also a great teacher, and through his large studio exercised an immense influence on Dutch painting.
At the beginning of the 17th century a Mannerist style, exemplified in the work of Gillis van Coninxloo (15441607), was dominant in landscape painting, but in the second decade of the century a more naturalistic style developed. Esaias van de Velde (15871630) and Hercules Seghers (1589/90c.
1630) were among the pioneers of realistic effects of lighting and colour. Their work was carried on by such painters as Jan van Goyen and Salomon van Ruysdael in what is often termed the tonal phase of Dutch landscape painting. This phase was dominant in the 1630s and 1640s, when spaciousness and atmosphere were expressed in subdued colour.
From about 1650 a more monumental style prevailed and the most important artists of this classical phase were Aelbert Cuyp
and the greatest of all Dutch landscape painters, Jacob van Ruisdael
. The reverence for nature and the heroic spirit expressed in the work of these artists and many of their contemporaries account for the enduring popularity of Dutch landscape painting and the immense influence it exerted on later art, most notably in England. The later work of Meindert Hobbema, a pupil of Ruisdael, is also significant.
Marine painting and architectural painting were popular, the most noteworthy figures in the former category being the elder and younger Willem van de Velde, Simon de Vlieger (c.
16001653), and Jan van de Cappelle (16261679); and in the latter Pieter Saenredam (15971665), Emanuel de Witte, and Jan van der Heyden, who was known especially for his highly detailed cityscapes of Amsterdam.
Although the expression of national pride was central to Dutch painting of the period, many Dutch artists visited Italy and especially Rome, which at this time was the artistic capital of Europe. Italianate landscapes were popular, the most important exponents being Bartolomeus Breenbergh (15991659) and Cornelis Poelenburgh (15861667), who were in Italy in the 1620s, and Jan Both and Nicolaes Berchem, who were there in the 1640s.
There is a great range and variety in genre painting, representing all levels of society engaged in almost every conceivable activity. These range from the humorously vulgar low-life scenes of Adriaen Brouwer to the delicate restraint of Terborch's genteel works. Three genre painters stand out above all others: Jan Steen
, with his energy and good humour; Pieter de Hooch
, who with his tender but unsentimental works sums up the confident well-being of Dutch bourgeois life more completely than any other artist; and Jan Vermeer
, who imbued his scenes of everyday life with a sense of timeless serenity. Gerard Dou (a pupil of Rembrandt's and also a portrait painter), Nicolaes Maes, Gabriel Metsu, and Adriaen van Ostade are among the host of other genre painters.
In portrait painting, two artists tower above their contemporaries: Frans Hals, who broke away from Mannerist conventions and, by capturing fleeting movement and expression, created works of brilliant vitality; and Rembrandt, whose depth of feeling as well as skill are nowhere more evident than in his portraits. However, these opinions were not always held by their contemporaries: the smoother, detailed, more finished style of Thomas de Keyser (1596/971667) or Bartholomeus van der Helst appealed more to bourgeois taste than the individuality of Hals or Rembrandt.
Still lifes were popular at the time and a typical expression of the interest of the Dutch in their surroundings and pride in their way of life. Still-life painters often worked in very narrow categories: Jan Baptist Weenix painted hunting still lifes; Jan Davidsz de Heem rich banquet and flower pieces; Willem Kalf mainly elaborate assemblages of sumptuous objects with great sensitivity to light and texture; Willem Claesz Heda and Pieter Claesz, both of Haarlem, created variants on the breakfast still life, with pewter and glass, bread, and a half-peeled lemon.
The 17th century was the greatest period of Dutch sculpture as well as of painting. The two most important sculptors were Hendrick de Keyser, who sculpted mainly portraits, and Artus Quellin I (c.
16091668), who carried out a magnificent sculpture for Amsterdam town hall. However, Dutch sculpture can in no way be compared in importance with Dutch painting, and no further sculptors emerged as significant.
After about 1670 Dutch art declined almost as suddenly as it had risen to greatness. Holland continued to be strong, but could no longer rank as a power against England and France. French rococo influence became dominant in late 17th- and 18th-century Dutch art, and most of the life and originality of the country's great age of painting disappeared. The most important painters of the 18th century were Cornelis Troost, a figure somewhat comparable to William Hogarth in England; the genre painter Jozef Israels; and the brilliant flower painters Rachel Ruych and Jan van Huysum, who continued the tradition of the previous century.
In the 19th century Dutch art followed the major European trends, until in the 1870s there was a reoccurrence of original Dutch feeling in painting with the work of the Hague School, which is comparable to the Barbizon School in France. The most important members of the group were Jozef Israels; the Maris brothers, Jacob (18371899), Matthijs (18391917), and Willem (18441910); Anton Mauve; and Hendrik Willem Mesdag. Two late-19th-century Dutch artists stand above these: Johan Barthold Jongkind, who worked in France and influenced the Impressionists, and Vincent van Gogh, whose importance overrides national boundaries and purely Dutch characteristics.
There have been important Dutch contributions to 20th-century art, the most noteworthy figures being the fauvist Jan Sluyters, the Symbolist Jan Toorop, and Piet Mondrian, one of the most individual and original of modern painters and the dominant figure of the De Stijl
group. The graphic artist M C Escher was known for the optical effects and paradoxes of his lithographs. The COBRA group (194951), which included the painter Karel Appel, greatly influenced European abstract expressionism.
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