This exhibition explores the history of British monarchs as commissioners and collectors of Dutch art especially in the 17th and 18th century during what is considered the Dutch ‘Golden Age’. George IV had fondness for Dutch paintings and, in particular, scenes of everyday life. He would display the paintings in rooms at Carlton House and Windsor Castle, in one of the alcoves in the exhibition is a number of Charles Wild’s contemporary watercolour views of rooms where a number of the paintings in the exhibition can be seen.
In general, 17th and 18th century Dutch paintings were considered the finest examples of what is now known as ‘genre painting’, ordinary scenes of everyday life painted in extraordinary detail. Although the paintings depicted everyday life, many Dutch artists of the period included humorous or moralising messages in their work.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is Johannes Vermeer’s Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman, or ‘The Music Lesson’, 1662–5, Vermeer enigmatically has a woman with her back to the observer and a man at her side singing. Their relationship seems ambiguous, but illustrates one of the themes of musical instruments used as symbols suggesting certain behaviours. Other examples in the exhibition include Gabriel Metsu’s The Cello Player, c.1658, in which a female figure is greeted by a pet dog, while her suitor tunes his cello and The Neglected Lute, c.1708, by Willem van Mieris presents a similar theme, a woman in eats and drinks whilst a symbolic lute on the floor at her side. Many of the paintings have humorous subject matter but contain a moralising message to beware the temptations of idleness, gambling and sex, Jan Steen’s A Woman at her Toilet, 1663 has a clear message of the perils of sensuality that could lead to ruin.
Another popular theme at this time were scenes of provincial Dutch life, in taverns and cottages and at village fetes Adriaen van Ostade’s The Interior of a Peasant’s Cottage, 1668 and A Girl Selling Grapes to an Old Woman, c.1658, by Frans van Mieris the Elder everyday life in all its variety. The selling of produce reflected that trade and commerce was creating a Dutch ‘Golden Age’, exotic imported items were becoming more widely available and the Dutch horticulture was developing to provide more and more produce.
This intriguing and fascination exhibition features twenty-seven of the finest 17th- and 18th-century Dutch paintings in the Royal Collection includes works by some of the finest Dutch artists of the day, among them Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch and Jan Steen.
In many ways, Dutch art of this period was considered inferior to Italian art which often portrayed more classical themes, therefore it is surprising that it was so popular with the British Monarchy. Perhaps part of the answer was that the humour and moralising of the pieces had more in common to their particular lifestyles rather than the higher ideals promoted by the Church and others.
A ticket to this exhibition includes free access to the Thomas Rowlandson High Spirits exhibition in the Queen’ s Gallery.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information or to book tickets visit the Royal Collection website here
Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace,
13 November 2015 – 14 February 2016
Open daily, 10:00-17:30
Under 17/Disabled £5.20
Under 5 Free
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