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Exhibition of masterpieces from the Dutch Golden Age at Pinacothèque de Paris
Isack van Ostade (1621-1649), Paysage d’hiver près d’une auberge, 1643. Huile sur toile, 106 x 146 cm © photo: The Kremer Collection/Fondation Aetas Aurea.

PARIS.- The exhibition L’Âge d’or hollandais, organized in the Pinacothèque de Paris in the fall of 2009, around the treasures in the Dutch royal collections, provided a spotlight on that unique period in Europe during which a very important human revolution had taken place a century and a half before the one in France. That first middle-class revolution occurred thanks to the arrival to political power of a merchant class, which had turned the little territory of the Republic of the United Pro¬vinces of Holland into an autonomous country based on an incredible economic wealth, and had made of the country, uniquely in Europe, one of the few places where war was not waged, without any Inquisition or intolerance. It also transformed Holland into a refuge for the artists, thinkers, writers and philosophers who could find nowhere else such freedom of expression.

Thus was born what is usually described as the Dutch Golden Age: during a short century, an extraordinary artistic movement grew up on the Netherland’s current territory, supported by a new category of collectors : the merchants and the bourgeoisie. At that period in Holland, collecting was no longer the prerogative of the aristocrats, like everywhere else in Europe, but it became the sym¬bol of a caste of tradesmen who had made their fortunes in international commerce and seafaring transport.

To that specific context, was added that of the Counter-Reformation which brought an unexpected prolongation to the arts, of a hitherto unseen splendor since the origins of art history: the chiaroscuro. In opposition to Luther’s Reformation, the papacy reacted by setting up the Counter-Reformation, imposing on the world, by means of the Council of Trent, new rules to make religion appropriate for the believers, in order to prevent any further ideological schisms and the loss of confidence in the values of the Christian church, now becoming Catholic. The Council of Trent set up rules of simplicity and proximity with the believers. Art did not escape these new rulings. The artist was henceforth forbidden to reproduce religious scenes incomprehensible to most mere mortals. An end to angels descending from heaven with wings and haloes, an end to Holy Families and all too obvious symbolic attributes, references only available to the literati and the scholars. Art had to be immediately understandable and close to the people. In order to achieve this, the artist must totally transform his iconographic vocabulary and find other solutions to obtain the same effects. Thus was born the chiaroscuro that gave light a divine and Christ-like dimension, which had no existed hitherto. The artists settled in Holland excelled in that mode of representation, and provided, by means of genre scenes, some extraordinary examples of what might be considered as a new kind of religious representation.

The outstanding collection gathered by Ilone and George Kremer for over sixteen years is symbolic in that sense: as if that couple were directly descended from that new category of merchant-collectors on the road to the Indies. Just like their forerunners, Ilone and George Kremer made a fortune in international trading and they divide their time between Holland, the USA and Spain. But they remain deeply committed to their own culture, that of Holland, and they are above all, passionate collectors, erudite, probably knowing their works and the Dutch artists than many specialists and art historians .

Ilone and George Kremer have created a unique collection of Dutch masters. From Rembrandt to Franz Hals, by way of Pieter de Hooch, Gerrit Dou, Gerrit van Honthorst, the works are items that are historically and artistically of foremost interest. By according an equally impor¬tant place to artists who are lesser known to-day, but who are just as essential to the period , Ilone and George Kremer enable us, for our greatest enjoyment, to dive into that past epoch, into that new world of merchants who collected and became the ruling class on a par with the aristocracies in the rest of Europe.

Thanks to an outstanding group of fifty seven works, the Kremers help us travel through time at the heart of that new world, where chiaroscuro was the culmination of a journey showing, on the one hand, genre scenes and the social relationships between the various trades in 17th century Holland, and on the other, how the bourgeoisie overtook the aristocracy in the world of art lovers and collectors. The exhibition also shows by means of that bourgeoisie’s attributes, still-lives or landscapes which are among the most remarkable and the most representative of the Dutch Golden Age.

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October 28, 2011

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