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Exhibition at Pinacotheque de Paris Focuses on the Dutch 17th Century
Pieter de Hooch, Interior scene with a mother picking nits from her child’s head (a mother’s duty), c. 1658-60. Oil on canvas, 62.5 x 61 cm. On loan from the city of Amsterdam © Image Department Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2009.

By: Marc Restellini

PARIS.- For its third season, the Pinacotheque de Paris is linking up with the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum to present one of the most interesting periods in the history of art: the Dutch 17th century.

That period saw the emergence of some of the most famous artists of all time and above all, of the one who has remained the absolute reference for every artist over the past four hundred years: Rembrandt.

Through the art of that time, it is essential to grasp how a young Republic (1581) was to become, thanks to its commercial success and its tolerant way of thinking, one of the most powerful commercial powers in Europe at a time when other European nations were falling into an endemic recession and were religiously intolerant: the newly born Republic appeared like a promised land where everyone could live in peace and harmony.

It was above all thanks to its freedom of worship that the Republic of United Provinces (ancestor of the future Netherlands) attracted many personalities who found there a possibility of working, thinking and practicing their religion whereas they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs in their original countries. Writers, and thinkers, came from all over Europe to teach, publish and increase their knowledge. Thus, that part of the world became the centre of the world as regards knowledge.

The commercial and colonial power was swiftly linked to that of knowledge. The power of commerce was to increase thanks to the lightness of the equipment, which could move more swiftly in the Baltic sea than the other trading vessels. Amsterdam very soon became a hegemonic commercial power far ahead of all the other European colonial powers.

So it was thus quite naturally that the young Republic became in a short time a centre wherein culture in its broadest sense was to flourish, as well in the field of Letters as in the Arts. One of the first characteristics in that region was the development of a new type of patron. They were no longer the wealthy aristocratic families, like elsewhere in Europe, but wealthy merchants having made their fortune thanks to the recent sea trading, they became the main commissioners of works. Coming from patrician families, this middle class became one of the most important economic resources for industry, trade and Art. Then, all those who made money became in their turn the commissioners for works, thus creating a kind of competition between the tradesmen and the patrician families, each one needing to prove his social achievement and his economic ascension as well as his change in status. Thus the Region became the major cultural pole in which the artists’ and artisans’ workshops could flourish. Art and culture provided a new form of economic and industrial prosperity. One upmanship as regards the subjects was one of its consequences. Every year, new painters appeared, bringing forth new themes or unexpected subject matters.

Genre painting was born at that time; the description of landscapes took on new forms. A generation of hitherto unheard of wealth in Art History came forth, that was only to be found again in Paris at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century.

Painters – like trade at that time – also acquired a specialty in a very precise field: still lifes or Vanities with Willem Claesz Heda, Willem Kalf, Jan van Huysum and Peter Claesz; landscapes with Jan van Goyen, Jacob van Ruysdael as well as Meindert Hobbema. Jan Steen or Adrian van Ostade illustrating village satires whereas Gerard Ter Borch and Pieter de Hooch applied themselves to the comedy of manners and to genre scenes including peasant festivities. Emanuel de Witte and Pieter Jansz Saenredam were specialized in painting monuments, Thomas de Keyser and Frans Hals became the specialists of portraits, Willem van de Velde that of maritime scenes and Paulus Potter specialized in animal paintings.

Vermeer and Rembrandt must be set aside since they are finally not very representative of that period. They have nonetheless become its symbols. Unlike the other artists, they were interested in several styles and refused any kind of specialization. One and the other have remained absolute models, beyond time and periods, and are deemed, for the past four centuries, as the major painters in Art History.

This exhibition wants above all to highlight Rembrandt’s very specific role; the most influential artist of that period, Rembrandts had a notoriety that confers upon him a very specific status and made of him the model of that period thanks to his tolerance, his modernity, his poetical realism and his emotional power mainly translated though his use of light. A master of the chiaroscuro, Rembrandt brought to his models, simple portraits or religious scenes, a dimension, a density, a unequalled human beauty that make of him the fore-runner of modernity, an analyst of souls and consciences, three centuries ahead of his contemporaries.

Pinacotheque de Paris | Rembrandt | The Dutch 17th century |


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