Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review – Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age at the National Gallery from 22 Feb 2020 to 31 May 2020

Exhibition Review – Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age at the National Gallery from 22 Feb 2020 to 31 May 2020

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The National Gallery presents the first-ever monographic exhibition devoted to Nicolaes Maes (1634 – 1693) in the UK. The exhibition entitled Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age explores the career of one of the most successful artists of the period, and shows how a favourite pupil of Rembrandt made his name in the Dutch ‘Golden Age’.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The exhibition brings together 48 works, comprising paintings and drawings, from a range of private and public collections. The three rooms reflect three distinct periods in the artist’s career and illustrates how Maes started out as a painter of historical and biblical scenes but soon moved on to paintings of everyday life for which he is now best known, during the last decades of his career he became one of the most sought-after portrait painters in 17th-century Holland.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Maes was considered one of Rembrandt’s most talented pupils and the master’s influence can be seen in Maes early paintings of historical and biblical scenes, which are displayed in the first room. Highlights include Christ Blessing the Children, Adoration of the Shepherds and the Sacrifice of Isaac.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

If the first room shows Rembrandt’s influence, the second room features some of Maes’s most well known compositions. Having left Amsterdam to return to his native city of Dordrecht, Maes began to focus on scenes of everyday life or ‘genre’ paintings as they were known. One of his most famous themes was the eavesdropper. In these paintings the central character in the scene ‘breaks the fourth wall’ and looks directly at the viewer. The eavesdropper stands at the foot of a staircase, finger raised to her lips, imploring secrecy. Maes began to construct inventive compositions in which the viewer is able to spy on the scene that the eavesdropper is intruding on.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Although the eavesdroppers are among his most famous works during this period, the exhibition also shows Maes interest in portraying daily tasks. Many of these pictures focused on women carrying out duties like seamstresses and lacemakers carrying out their domestic duties.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

In 1673 Maes returned to Amsterdam and began a very prolific period in which he became one of the most sought-after portrait painters of his time, he was said to have produced some 900 portraits becoming a very wealthy man.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The third and final room is dedicated to these portraits, showing how his style developed to reflect the fashion of the late 17th century. He used extravagant backgrounds to complement the poses of his sitters.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Some of the portraits in the final room are displayed in their original frames which is unusual, it is rare for the original frames of 17th-century paintings to have survived. This room reunites four portraits from the same family – Portrait of Simon van Alphen, Portrait of Beatrix van Alphen, Portrait of Dirk van Alphen and Portrait of Maria Magdalena van Alphen, all in their original frames. Painted around 1677 they show how the wealthier classes in 17th-century Holland like to be portrayed and why Maes was so popular as a portraitist.

This interesting free exhibition introduces the viewer to the work of Nicolaes Maes who despite being one of the most successful artists of the period is little known today. In many ways he was the victim of his own success, the popularity of his genre pictures and portraits in the 17th, 18th and 19th century meant that he is considered as a rather superficial painter compared to the likes of Rembrandt. This is rather unfair because his paintings of interiors was a theme picked up the next generation of Dutch artists, especially Pieter de Hooch and Johannes Vermeer.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information and tickets, visit the National Gallery website here

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