You can get a quick overview of the Golden Age of Dutch art at the de Young's current special exhibit called 'The Girl with the Pearl Earring.' This is not a blockbuster show that will leave you gasping with delight. There are only thirty-five paintings, but each one is carefully chosen to represent the art trends during the 1600s when the Netherlands peaked as a world power. These paintings are a small part of the collection of a museum in The Hague called Mauritshuis—pronounced Maurits' House; this magnificent seventeenth century city palace is undergoing a two-year renovation and expansion. The show runs through June 2. Since no photos were allowed, I grabbed some images from the internet.
The painting by Johannes Vermeer called The Girl with the Pearl Earring is justifiably the centerpiece of the show. It is referred to as 'the Mona Lisa' of Dutch Art and is presented in a small dark gallery by itself—in the manner of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. You may find this portrait even more appealing. There's no inhibited mystery about this girl's expression; looking over her shoulder with limpid eyes and moistened mouth, her expression is almost a come-hither look, yet she seems pure, innocent. The light in her eyes and on her lips is amplified by the highlight on the improbably large pearl dangling from one ear, and it seems to come from within. Even though her presence is so strong, this girl was a dream of Vermeer's. It is a type of portrait that was very popular at the time known as a tronie; instead of representing a specific individual, a tronie portrayed an idealized type. Thus the turban, the earring, and the simplified but exotic robe are a costume chosen to express Vermeer's dream of pure beauty.
|Girl with a Pearl Earring|
Vermeer; Internet grab
|Honthorst; Internet grab|
|Portrait of an Elderly Man|
Rembrandt; Internet grab
|Portrait of Jacob Olycan, 1625|
Frans Hals, c. 1582-1666
|Portrait of Aletta Hanemans, bride of Jacob Olycan, 1625|
Frans Hals, c. 1582-1666
|Vase of Flowers, 1700|
Rachel Ruysch, 1664-1750
|Vanitas Still Life, 1630 by Pieter Claesz|
|As the Old Sing, So Twitter the Young, c. 1670 by Jan Steen|
|A Man Smoking and a Woman Drinking in a Courtyard, c. 1660|
Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684)
|Wooded Landscape with Cottages, c. 1665|
Every painting in this show is an excellent example; if only there were more. Also it would help if some sort of narration like this one were available. Very little wall text was offered and the audio guide was weak. I knew this history because I've toured all the big art museums in the Netherlands, including the Mauritshuis, and have a good grounding in Dutch art. Since the exhibit would serve as an introduction to Dutch art for most people, it would be greatly enhanced by providing some context.