An impressive collection of paintings, engravings and etchings from various Dutch artists is open to the public at the De Young museum of San Francisco until June 2nd. They are on loan from the Maurithuis in The Hague, Netherlands.
The most crowded spot of the exhibition is of course the world-famous portrait of the "Girl with a Pearl Earring." Just like for the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, you may have to wait a few minutes before you can actually approach this dramatically displayed masterpiece: it is the only painting from Vermeer presented at this exhibit (he painted 36 in his life) but probably the one which reflects the most his extraordinary skill and brilliance as a master of shadow and light.
This portrait is even more popular in the United States than in Europe because of Tracy Chevalier's novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring. She used the same title and a picture of the painting for her cover page and imagined a story about the model used by Vermeer . In the novel she is a servant of the house , however it is not known who the model was, some even speculate she was one of his daughters. The book gives a detailed description of 17th century Delft , recreates the atmosphere of this prosperous and dazzling artistic period as well as the painting techniques used at the time. If you enjoyed the book ( or the Girl With a Pearl Earring movie by Olivia Hetreed) then the seeing of the real painting is a MUST and will become a magical moment to experience.
Etchings and engravings
A section is dedicated to leading artists using etching , engraving, woodcut and ink drawing techniques. Among them you will see Rembrandt's self portrait and also a portrait with his wife Saskia; Van Dyck - with his series The Iconography-; Durer -The life of the Virgin- and Abraham Bosse. Those techniques allow for the finest details and provide not only an esthetic enjoyment but a discovery of the everyday life and activities of the Dutch people: merchants, peasants, shopkeepers, vagrants....Ackley 's book Rembrandt's Journey: Painter, Draftsman, Etcher shows that during his life his fame was mostly due more to his etchings than his paintings.
An age of prosperity
A judicious selection of paintings reflecting the new wealth and good economic times are also displayed in this exhibit. Some are still lifes ( for example the renowned "Vase with Flowers" by Rachel Ruysch) which include exotic plants that were brought back to the Netherlands by their explorers such as the tulip which will become an icon. Some are portraits which were commissioned by the growing middle class to celebrate special events such as births or weddings or social gatherings, but also to witness quiet scenes of domesticity ( such as Woman writing a letter by Borch).
This visit enlightens our vision of the Dutch Golden Age, a prolific period of artistic excellence depicted extensively by Simon Schama in his book The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in The Golden Age and Ruud Priem in Rembrandt & the Golden Age of Dutch Art.
Photo credit: de Young Museum
Jocelyne C is an extra-help library assistant who works at several library branches of San Mateo County. She is a member of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.