Tag Archives: Rijksmuseum

Traveling in Europe: Amsterdam Part II

To see my album of Amsterdam pictures, click on the first picture.

Europe 2011: Amsterdam
canals, Amsterdam, houseboats, culture, the Netherlands

One of Amsterdam's many canals

Amsterdam is one of the uber culture spots of Europe, thronging with people getting away for a weekend, going some place to party, or checking out the art. Through the couchsurfing site I realized how immersed gay culture is there (most of the hosts listed on the site were gay). But oddly I didn’t see a lot of gay men. You might wonder how I would know but I’ve been around a lot of gay people all my life, have friends of various persuasions and as a result have developed fairly good “gaydar.” But they were there somewhere.

There were a lot of people; those hanging out in the coffee shops, where you can smoke pot (but only in the shops, not on the streets), those there to see the historic sites, and those shopping. Shopping also includes the infamous, but shrinking red light district. Some cleanup action of Amsterdam’s council has shrunk the area over the years. I stumbled upon the edge of it and ironically, one side of the street was the oude kerk (old church) while the other held the large picture windows where the scantily clad girls all work. I was a little surprised that I didn’t see one white woman but then I might have been in the wrong “section.” I have no pictures of the windows because I believe it rude to gawk and photograph these women.

Amsterdam also has oodles of museums, such as a doorknob museum, maritime museum and an eyeglass museum. Because I’m one of those people who stick my nose close to a painting to figure out the uses of color and the type of brushstrokes, as well as reading all the details about the artist’s life or the history of the time, it takes me a lot longer to go through a museum or art gallery than your average Joe. I really look. It’s a combo of my art college background and my eye for details and textures.  So when those guidebooks say you can do three museums in a day, they’re not talking to me.

 

Amsterdam, art, sculpture, travel, Rijksmuseum

An exterior detail of the Rijksmuseum.

I did hit the Rijksmuseum, a monster in and of itself. Almost all of it was surrounded by fencing and undergoing massive renovations. Only the section on the Dutch Masters was open, yet that took me three-four hours. Very few museums allow pictures, so that huge influx of historical art is only stored (somewhere) in my memory. I also took in the Van Gogh museum and this was one of the top three of my trip. I should also mention that getting Holland’s heritage pass (for about 44 Euros for a year) is well worth it for visiting museums and galleries. After three venues it saved me money.

The museum was extensive and detailed. There were write-ups on Van Gogh’s life, his influences, his work and his travels. We sometimes only know of the few oft-published paintings and that he was mad and cut off his ear, but he was much much more than that. He experimented in numerous styles including Chinese and Japanese. He studied art and kept trying different visions; landscapes, still lifes, people.  He copied the old masters and delved into the new ones, and he did it all in ten years. Ten years for a body of work that fills a museum. The show also included artworks by those who had influenced him and those he influenced. A truly amazing, well thought out homage to one of Holland’s more recent greats.

Stedelijk Museum, art, sculpture, Amsterdam, architecture

Exterior detail of the Stedelijk.

I also went into the Stedelijk Museum, which has modern art and an interesting show on font design. I kind of zipped through it because I was more interested in the older styles of art, but it was quite extensive with everything from mixed media, film to functional design forms and poster art.

I also went to the oude and nieuwe kerks (old and new churches) each built over several centuries and gothic in design. The oude kerk was begun in 1250 and finished in the 1500s. The no-fun Protestants came along at some point and tore down statues and broke stained glassed, making the cathedrals very austere and cavernous. However, at the new church there was a retrospective art show of wedding gowns. Some were just historical gowns through the decades and others involved twirling dresses (with the figure blacked out) on TVs, a giant roll of white fabric representing a wedding train and a suspended gown with one wing torn off , in front of a tomb of a war hero (somehow I’ve lost these pictures). It actually worked because where do wedding dresses fit but in a church?

There is a street market that sells everything from cheese to cheesy hooker style clothes. Since my suitcase decided to die at the beginning of my trip I had to buy another and found a cheap one at the market, but being cheap it barely lasted the three weeks of my vacation. Old cities, like Amsterdam have enough going on that you could just walk around for three days and look at the architecture and design. For me the mass of people had me happy to leave after two days but I’d probably go back again, especially since the crowds were so long I couldn’t get into Anne Franck House.

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Vermeer and Rembrandt at the Vancouver Art Gallery

Last night I attended the show at the Vancouver Art Gallery; “Vermeer, Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art Masterpieces from The Rijksmuseum.” I went with a friend who is also interested in art history so we tended to discuss details and  techniques a lot. Though you could zip through the show in about 20 minutes, we took two hours. The show was bigger than I was expecting. In the past, some of the VAG shows were really lacking so it was a pleasant surprise.

The works included mostly paintings, some etchings, charcoal and brush sketches, drypoint work, watercolors of plants, blown glass goblets and containers, Delft ceramic tiles and vessels and silver items (and a few miniature chairs, 6 inches high). Although Vermeer and Rembrandt were featured as the main (or most famous) attractions, there was a myriad of works by other Dutch masters, many who had been trained by Rembrandt. A few of the names I remember from the show are: Gerard Ter Borch (quite a few pieces), Frans Hals, Karel du Jardin, Adriaen van Ostade, Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch, Aelbert Cuyp,  Salomon van Ruysdael, Hobbema, Visscher, etc.

The pictures ranged in size from small etchings and sketches (4-5 inches) up to five foot paintings. Many were either in original or very old wooden frames. I wished there had been more detail on the frames but we realised that the makers were probably lost in antiquity as just nameless craftsmen. One frame was carved with leaves and berries, a blank shield at the top and an odd woodsy, gnome face at the bottom. It was a true work of art in itself and about three inches in depth.

The images themselves ranged from watercolors of plants and portraits. to pastoral images, cityscapes, mythical and iconic images, still lifes of fruit, flowers, vessels, dead animals, portraits of course and daily life scenes. Overall it was a very good cross section of the Golden Age of Dutch art. Not many of the paintings were ones that I am familiar with, and I have looked at a good many books of medieval and renaissance art, but many were recognizable as being by one person or the next.

Four glass vessels were in the show; three drinking glasses and a flask in blue with engraved swirls and words on it. The other three were blown glasses and the plainest was also very interesting. It was a small cylindrical beaker of about 4 inches in height, of very clear glass (harder to attain in those eras) and with a few decorations that looked like wriggly worms with hands at the end, in clear and teal blue glass. I found the decoration, which covered the lower quarter of the glass, almost modern in its design. The glass vessels were also included to compliment the paintings which had similar or exact goblets in the images.

The silver items were amazingly shiny and looked brand new. I believe that the museums must have cleaned and polished them at the point of acquiring them. There were platters, ewers, spice sets, candlesticks, containers and a Jewish menorah. Many were covered with flowers and chasework, and sometimes whimsical creatures or raised motifs and arms. It would have been nice to have had more of a write-up beside these pieces. I wanted to know if they were molded, hammered, chased, or other techniques but they were probably like the glass vessels, meant to compliment images in the paintings.

The paintings were all behind glass, put into the frames. All of the three-dimensional artifacts were in Plexiglas cases on graphite metal stands, very sturdy and no way they could be knocked over. VAG is notorious for being somewhat lower grade when it comes to museum security, a reason that the truly great pieces of art don’t always make it to Vancouver. There were the requisite guards/watchers in every room. Several guys had that CIA look with a cord wriggling into their ears and walkies in their hands, but were professional and inobtrusive. The rest were probably volunteers and not “real” security.

This caused its own problem near the end, after we had been walking around the exhibition for nearly two hours. My friend and I discussed pieces, looking closely at brushstrokes and details, or how a hand, a vessel or a building had been rendered. We talked about qualities of light, colors used, whether a piece was faded, the faces realistic, the towns real or fantasy, the landscapes, etc. as well as the difference from one master or one painting to another. I need reading glasses for up close and used them to see the fine detail of the paint, which brought me within a few inches of the painting.

I’m very well aware of museum protocols and would never touch a painting or drawing (though almost all were under glass anyways) because I know the damage these would cause. So as my friend and I talked about the works she or I would point out something in a painting, using a finger to point. At one point I leaned in to look at a small painting and put my hand on the edge of the metal stand of the display right next to the painting. In swooped a watcher and told me not to touch the stand. I was hardly jeopardizing the piece or the stand.

The next and last room had paintings ranging in size down to a smaller piece about eight-twelve inches long. As we discussed the image of the woman taking off her stockings (a painting I have seen before) in her bedroom, I pointed out the lines that her garters had left on her legs. In swooped the socially inept watcher to say, don’t touch the paintings. I pointed out that I wasn’t and she replied, your fingers don’t have eyes so they don’t need to be so close. ??? WTF? This did irritate me in the rudeness and inanity of it all. And we had done this throughout the full exhibition only to have this creature at the end get proprietary with her little ounce of power. I wrote a letter to the VAG, not that it will do much good (years ago I used to volunteer there until they started charging their volunteers–yep, pay to volunteer).

All in all, I thought it was a good show and a great chance to see the actual works of the Dutch masters that I had not seen before in person. The admission isn’t cheap at $20.50. (I believe Tuesday nights might be free but you’d have to check that.) If you’re used to museums in England and Scotland where they are now mostly free, it’s a lot. Luckily I had a pass, but it was worth it, except for the few troglodyte guard dogs.

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