If you thought cheese, tulips, stroopwafels and Heineken were the greatest Dutch contributions to humanity, then think again. The Netherlands also plays a big role in the history of art, introducing to the world names that have influenced many generations; artists who revolutionised not only the use of color, the intensity of brush strokes and views on perspective, but changed and challenged the mentality of the societies they lived in.
Here I gather five names from the Dutch art history you should know and where, in the Netherlands, you will find some of their greatest masterpieces.
1. Rembrandt (1606 – 1669)
Recognised by many as the finest Dutch artist of all time, back in the 17th century Rembrandt was famous not for his paintings but for his etchings, which were sold by art dealers and merchants throughout Europe. Although originally from Leiden, he soon settled in Amsterdam due to the high demand for his works, especially portraits, commissioned by wealthy families. Yet he didn’t only paint portraits of others, but of himself too, having made around 90 self-portraits. His style is praised for his sheer sincerity in representation over the glorification of an ideal beauty in vogue at the time. To find some of his must-see works, head to the Rijksmuseum for the “Night Watch”, “The Jewish Bride” and others. For his etchings, don’t miss Rembrandthuis.
2. Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)
Undoubtedly one of the most famous painters in history, this post-impressionist artist was immortalized by pictures such as “Sunflower” and “Starry Night”. He started drawing as a child and by the time of his death, he produced over two thousand artworks. His rough yet sophisticated brushwork, together with his bright color pallet were influenced by the artist’s visit to France in 1886, where he first had contact with French Impressionists. Van Gogh is also known for his troubled mind and bouts of mental illness. Surprisingly enough, they led him to form emotional and moving paintings. Nonetheless, Van Gogh extended Impressionism to its ultimate limits. Take a closer look at his outstanding works at Van Gogh Museum.
3. Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675)
Contemporary to Rembrandt, this Delft artist also produced his works during the Dutch Golden Age, when the Netherlands thrived culturally, commercially and scientifically. The art business during this time was so competitive that Vermeer’s talents weren’t commercially recognised in his life. Nowadays, however, his very few works – only 35 paintings – are loved and acclaimed throughout the world. That is because his portrayals of interior domestic scenes contain a unique beauty given to its light and unusual perspective. He has been acknowledged as the first cinematographer because of his depiction of light. Find a couple of his best works, like “Girl with a pearl earing” at Mauritshuis, in The Hague, and “The Milkmaid” at the Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam.
4. Frans Hals the Elder (1582 – 1666)
Another painter to work during the Golden Age, Frans Hals is known for its portraits of the wealthiest people in Haarlem. As the son of a cloth merchant, he didn’t disappoint on detailing the fabric of each vestment featured in his paintings. Through his distinct loose painterly brushwork he also captured the personality of each character, whether by drawing captivating face expressions or beautiful and ornamented pieces of clothing. As the home to this much acclaimed painter, Haarlem hosts the museum named after him where you should find a collection of his highlights.
5. Piet Mondrian (1872 – 1944)
This has to be one of the most adored artists by the fashion world. Mondrian’s “Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow” was reproduced by the catwalk so many times it contributed to the spread of the artist’s fame after his death. Fashion legacy apart, he was a very important piece of De Stijl (Dutch for “The Style”), movement founded in Amsterdam and also known as Neoplasticism. Artists from this movement, which covers works produced in the Netherlands from 1917 to 1931, aimed for the simplification of visual composition. These characteristics are easily spotted in Mondrian’s paintings, with simple lines and primary colors. Best way to have access to this modern artist’s work? Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum gotta be the answer.