Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Dutch Painting by Charles H. Caffin
 
The Story of Dutch Painting by  Charles H. Caffin

Beginning of the New

T HE breathing-time given by the truce allowed play for dissensions among parties and for the ambitions that had crept into the house of Orange. Meanwhile it favored the development that during the next hundred years made Holland the richest and most advanced country in Europe.

To commemorate the raising of the siege of Leyden, the patriots in 1574 had founded a university in that city; to inaugurate the truce, they pumped dry the Beemster Lake and added eighteen thousand acres to their territory. The two acts, and even the order in which they came, were characteristic of this extraordinary people. They were the most enlightened of their day and brought their intelligence to bear upon all the practical concerns of life. The renown of their university excelled that of Paris, Oxford, or Cambridge; their scholars laid the foundations of international law and modern medicine, and their printing-presses produced more books than those of the rest of Europe combined. Their development in painting is our present subject, but they also carried their love of the beautiful into the design and craftsmanship of the ornaments and utensils of the home, and into the laying out of gardens and the cultivation of flowers. Meanwhile their looms, manned by weavers who had fled from Flanders to avoid religious persecution, produced the finest fabrics in Europe; their workshops exported the best mathematical, astronomical, and nautical instruments; and their discovery of the art of cutting and polishing diamonds gave them a monopoly of this business. The Bank of Amsterdam was founded in the first year of the truce and soon became famous for the amount of its deposits and the volume of its transactions, while the city itself became the chief distributing center for the commerce of the Old and the New World.

Meanwhile in agriculture the Hollanders displayed a similar combination of scientific resourcefulness and indomitable energy. They discovered the value as fodder of certain "artificial" grasses and clovers, and experimented with these to the immense improvement of their cattle and dairy produce; and by the application of intensive methods to the cultivation of the land so increased its productivity, that it became capable of supporting three times the population which had before subsisted on it. Further, by promoting the cultivation of the potato and other root-vegetables they wrought a signal improvement in the public health, since the variety of diet, thus made possible in winter, stamped out the scurvy and leprosy which had been the scourge of Holland as of other countries. At the same time they developed their fisheries and introduced improved methods of drying and treating fish; enlarged their merchant marine, so that they became the chief carriers of the world; and pushed their commerce with the Indies, until they possessed a practical monopoly of the most lucrative trade of those times, namely, that of spices.

Meanwhile, as a reverse to this story of national progress, were the religious and political dissensions that crept into the commonwealth. Protestantism, after presenting a solid front to Romanism, now found itself cleft by the sect-rivalries of Arminians and Gomarists; and these in time gave color and opportunity to the ambition of Maurice. No disinterested patriot like his father, William the Silent, the second Stadtholder intrigued for his personal aggrandizement, and stained his memory by the judicial murder of the old patriot-statesman Barneveldt. On the other hand, of better memory was his service to art. In 1611 he commissioned Ravesteyn to paint a series of portraits of officers. These and other pictures that he gathered adorned his palace, and, added to by his successor, the Stadtholder Frederick Henry, became the nucleus of the collection that, accumulating through various vicissitudes, now occupies the Mauritshuis, as the Royal Museum of The Hague.

The lack of cohesion, of which these dissensions were a symptom, and that had always been close to the surface of unity owing to the excessive individualism of the cities, was reflected in the new art. Small as was the total area of the country, it supplied a number of artistic centers, each with its group of artists, who had sufficient in common to constitute a school. Under the influence of tradition, or more often of some conspicuous member of the group, they presented similarities of motive that distinguished their choice of subjects and even their method of painting. Thus we may note a school of Haarlem, of Leyden, of Amsterdam, The Hague, Delft, Dordrecht, and Utrecht. There was a certain rivalry between the schools of these various cities, but, on the other hand, a centripetal force that tended also to draw them together. Communication was easy in so small a country, and, moreover, the growing importance of Amsterdam as the commercial capital made it gradually a center also of art. The result was a happy combination of homogeneousness and individualism. The paintings of the period possess a common excellence, of a kind so distinctive that you may recognize at once a picture as belonging to the School of Holland, and yet they reveal so many individual traits that the homogeneousness is not characterized by monotony.

Accordingly, if we do not make the mistake of trying to surround the school of each city with an arbitrary wall, separating it conclusively from other cities, we may get many suggestions that help to classify our comprehension of the Holland School as a whole. I propose, therefore, to distribute the artists, whose names we have already reviewed, according to their individual schools; to the cities in which they worked, and, in most cases, were born and educated.

Under the head of Utrecht, then, we find the names of Heem, Hondecoeter, and Weenix, all three of them still-life painters. But, while this points to the fact that the distinguishing characteristic of the Utrecht School was the painting of flowers, dead game, and birds, it is not to be assumed that still-life is unrepresented in the other schools. The catalogues contain the names of no less than a hundred painters in this department, distributed throughout the various cities, and, as time goes on, congregating especially in Amsterdam. To the latter Weenix and Hondecoeter migrated; and it is interesting to note how the change of locale affected their art. Corresponding to the wealth of the capital, their pictures became much larger, designed as superb decorations for the walls of sumptuous houses.

The School of Haarlem includes the following: the portrait-painters Bray, Hals, and Terborch, the last also a genre painter, like Ostade of this city; and the landscapists Salomon and Jacob Ruisdael, Wynants, Everdingen, Wouwerman, Esaias van de Velde, and Berchem. The array of names, in the first place, suggests the importance of Haarlem at this period, as a center of commerce, society, and art. We may remember that it was particularly given to "corporation" pictures, as its museum to this day proclaims in the works of Bray and Hals, while Terborch, commencing under the influence of this place, later on painted the equivalent of a corporation picture in his Peace of Münster,  now in the National Gallery. Another clue to be derived from this grouping of names is that Hals, the acknowledged leader, exerted a direct influence on Terborch and Ostade; and through the latter upon Steen, who came over from Leyden to be Ostade's student.

Further, we recognize that this school was as fertile in landscape as in portraiture. With the exception of Van Goyen of Leyden, the founders and chief exponents of the art were associated with Haarlem; even Hobbema of Amsterdam, through his having been a pupil of Jacob Ruisdael. The latter's career, also, is made clearer by this classification. Haarlem was his birthplace and the scene of his personally inspired work. When, discouraged by lack of recognition, he moved to Amsterdam, it was the example of his fellow-townsmen that made him change his own style. For Everdingen, who had visited Sweden, was painting romantic scenes of waterfalls and rocks, and Ruisdael, observing how they found favor with the Amsterdammers, abandoned his study of the Holland landscape to invent similar subjects. Finally, we may connect Wouwerman with two of his townsmen. From Wynants he learned the landscape, and by Hals was influenced in his incomparable treatment of the accompanying groups of figures.

The School of Leyden boasts the great name of Rembrandt, who, however, moved finally to Amsterdam in 1631, when nearing his twenty-fifth year. After him the names that appear in the School of Leyden are: Dou, Steen, Metsu, Mieris, and Van Goyen; all of them, the last named only excepted, genre painters. Dou studied with Rembrandt, who was seven years his senior, during the last three years of the latter's stay in Leyden. He himself became the teacher of Gabriel Metsu, who, however, was also influenced by Frans Hals, and also, after his move to Amsterdam, where he died, by Rembrandt. Dou was also the instructor of Frans van Mieris. Steen, on the other hand, the greatest of the Leyden group, escaped the influence of Dou, becoming, as we have seen, a pupil of Van Ostade at Haarlem, and later of Van Goyen, after the latter had moved to The Hague. Van Goyen, though born in Leyden, is associated also with the Haarlem School, for after he had had several masters, including Van Swanenburch, in Leyden, he served apprenticeship to the Haarlem painter Esaias van de Velde. Moreover, by the time that he had mastered his art, he settled in The Hague. Thus the characteristic of the School of Leyden remains its genre.

The names from our list that the School of Delft includes are those of Mierevelt, Fabritius, Van Aelst, Palamedesz, De Hooch, and, most distinguished of all, Vermeer. Mierevelt, as a portrait-painter, found better opportunities for his art at the seat of government, and became a member of the Guild of Painters of The Hague. Carel Fabritius was early attracted to Amsterdam by the fame of Rembrandt, and only returned to work in Delft during the last four years of his short life of thirty-four years. Van Aelst, also, the still-life painter, after oscillating between Delft and Florence, finally settled in Amsterdam. So did the portraitist and painter of fashionable genre, Palamedesz. He derived help at first from Mierevelt and was influenced by Hals, and in 1621 his name appears as a member of the guild in Delft, but he spent the latter part of his life in Amsterdam. This city also absorbed De Hooch, who, before he finally settled there, had been influenced by Rembrandt. In fact, his participation in the School of Delft was limited to the two years in which he was a fellow-member of the guild with Jan Vermeer. They were of the same age, but Vermeer was his senior in the guild by two years, and it is scarcely to be questioned that the influence of his refined feeling and exquisite craftsmanship must have affected De Hooch considerably. In contrast to the flux of change that characterized the lives of the other members of the Delft School is the consistency of Vermeer's attachment to the city of his birth. We shall discuss his art later. Here it is enough to recall that his only teacher was Carel Fabritius; but that his art, as it developed, was individually his own, conspicuously unique, and so admirable that when one speaks of the Delft School it is to think almost exclusively of its greatest artist, Jan Vermeer of Delft.

In connection with The Hague it is more correct to speak of a group than of a school. Among the artists in our list the only one born actually in this city was Ravesteyn, although it is true that Schalcken's native place was a village in the vicinity. But the same reason that made the former constant to the seat of government attracted thither other artists. The Hague was also a center of society and fashion. Mierevelt found there a market for his portraits, Van Goyen for his landscapes, and Netscher, Schalcken, and De Hooch for genre pictures. The last named spent some years there, but retired to Amsterdam. The rest continued working at The Hague until their deaths. Among them Van Goyen is easily the most distinguished. The rest are rather symptomatic of the atmosphere of their surroundings. The portraits by Mierevelt and Ravesteyn have the perfunctoriness of official and society products, eminently dignified and comme il faut,  irresistibly uninteresting, while the genre of Netscher and Schalcken is petty and frivolous by comparison with that of the older and greater painters, and Netscher's portraits are frequently insipid as to character and over-occupied with the niceties of millinery.

Of Dordrecht or Dort our list contains only one name, that of Aelbert Cuyp, whose versatile genius embraced portraiture, landscape and animal painting, genre, still-life, church interiors, and marines. We may add one other name, that of Hoogstraten, not, however, so much on account of his art as because he was the George Vasari of his day, the historian and story-monger of the painters of Holland in the seventeenth century.

It remains to summarize the School of Amsterdam. As may have been gathered from the foregoing, it was rather an aggregate of artists, drawn thither by two causes: the wealth of the commercial capital and the fame and influence of Rembrandt. The latter, as we have seen, moved finally from his native city, Leyden, to Amsterdam in 1631, when he was in his twenty-fifth year. Two years later he painted The Lesson in Anatomy,  and pupils began to flock to him; among the most notable being Ferdinand Bol, Govert Flinck, Eeckhout, Metsu, Nicolaes Maes, Fabritius, and De Hooch. On the other hand, among those whom the importance of the city attracted were several from the neighboring School of Haarlem; the portrait-painter Van der Helst, for example, and the landscape-painters Berchem, Jan Wynants, Everdingen, and Jacob Ruisdael; while from Utrecht came the still-life painters Hondecoeter and Weenix, and from Delft Van Aelst.

On the other hand, the native-born artists of Amsterdam included that early genre painter Pieter Aertz; the portrait-painter Thomas de Keyser; and the landscapists, Hercules Seghers, Philips Koninck, Adriaen van de Velde, Aert van der Neer, and Hobbema. But the distinctively local characteristic of the school, situated as it was in this great emporium of foreign commerce, is its group of marine-painters; among whom we may mention Simon de Vlieger, Bakhuysen, and the elder and the younger Willem van de Velde. Their pictures are particularly interesting for the faithful and spirited representation of shipping: fishing craft, coasting vessels, East-Indiamen in harbor, and men-of-war in action. The pictures of these last are the most important of the occasional indications to be found in Dutch painting that throughout this period of productivity in the arts of peace the country was involved in war. Not that the soldier is absent from pictures. On the contrary, he figures frequently, but usually in the intervals of fighting, while enjoying the pleasures of a furlough; though occasionally we come upon some positive hint of the prevailing disturbance, as in a scene of bivouac, or of peasants and soldiery fighting, or of soldiery attacking a traveling-coach or party of hunters. Generally, however, the subjects of the Holland pictures are rather suggestive of a profound tranquillity.

As a matter of fact, by the time that painting reached its maturity, Holland had ceased to be the battle-ground. She had become rather a focus point of intrigue, involved in distant complications with France, Germany, and England. There are in the Rijks Museum at Amsterdam two pictures which hint at this: The Fishers for Souls,  by Adriaen van de Venne, and The Enraged Swan,  by Jan Asselyn.

The former, painted in 1611 during the truce, represents a river dotted with boats, the occupants of which are fishing for the men and women that swim around them, while the banks are crowded with spectators. On the left are serried ranks of Hollanders, closing round those in whom they have confidence, namely, the Princes of Orange, Maurice and Frederick Henry, James I of England, and the young King of France, Louis XIII. On the opposite bank a less orderly mass of people confronts them, headed by the Archduke Albert and the Duchess Isabella, to whom Philip had made over the sovereignty of the Netherlands. So far the allegory epitomizes the political situation in which the Hollanders found themselves. Meanwhile, the religious aspect of the situation is suggested in the circumstances of the fishing, which seems to refer both to the old struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism and also to the new one arising out of the dissension in the latter between the rival sects of the Gomarists and Arminians. The happy outcome of it all is prefigured in the rainbow that spans the scene.

To appreciate the allegory involved in The Enraged Swan  it is necessary to summarize the events that followed the conclusion of the truce in 1621. Spain would have been glad to substitute for the truce a permanent peace, but held out for terms that were unacceptable to the Hollanders; and war in a desultory fashion was renewed. By this time the Thirty Years' War had commenced, and the religious and political struggle, that hitherto had centered in Holland, was being continued in a distant and larger field. Maurice died in 1625 and was succeeded in the office of Stadtholder by Frederick Henry, an able soldier and wise and patriotic statesman, who set himself to consolidate the internal resources of the republic. The latter showed its recognition of his services by the fatal expedients of making the office of Stadtholder hereditary in the house of Orange and of agreeing to the marriage of Frederick's son William with the eldest daughter of Charles I. The effects of this were, on the one hand, to create within the republic an Orange party that in time intrigued for absolutism of government, and, on the other, to embroil Holland in the struggle between the Stuarts and the Parliament of England, and later, upon the restoration of the monarchy in the person of Charles II, to involve the republic both in diplomacy and in war with that utterly unprincipled person.

Meanwhile peace was finally concluded with Spain in 1648, by the Treaty of Westphalia, or, as the compact is also styled, the Peace of Münster, which was proclaimed on June 5, 1648, the day on which Egmont and Horn had been executed by Alva eighty years before. By this time Frederick had been succeeded in the Stadtholdership by his son William, who, with the assistance of the Orange party, was intriguing for absolute rule. Fortunately for the republic, his death occurred two years later, a few days before the birth of his son, who eventually became Stadtholder and subsequently William III of England. Meanwhile, during the prince's minority, the government was in the hands of Johan de Witt, whose book "The Interest of Holland" is an able summary of the political and commercial conditions of the republic at the time. His patriotism had been whetted to a personal edge by the fact that he had been imprisoned illegally and arbitrarily by the late Stadtholder, and his opposition to the pretensions of the Orange party was in consequence unceasing throughout his official term, which lasted from 1650 to 1672. It is this that is commemorated in The Enraged Swan.

The picture represents a swan standing above its nest of eggs, in a fierce and threatening attitude, prepared to repel the attack of a dog. Above the latter is an inscription in Dutch, signifying "The Enemy of the State," while one of the eggs is lettered "Holland," and beneath the swan are the words "Grand Pensionary," the title of the office of Johan de Witt. Since the artist, Jan Asselyn, died in 1652, it is possible that his picture originally had no allegorical intent, but that its owner, seeing its application to the political situation, caused the inscriptions to be added. However this may be, it remains a curious document of the internal dissensions that at this period rent the little republic, and ended with the murder of De Witt and his brother by an Orange mob in 1672.

Of the entanglements into which the union of the house of Orange with the Stuarts eventually led the country, it is enough here to recall that the enmity of Spain had been replaced by that of France. The ambition of Louis XIV threatened not only Holland but Europe; and it was against this that William III during his Stadtholdership, and later, when he also occupied the throne of England, directed the military resources of both countries and his own unrivaled genius as a diplomatist. The result was a war, interrupted temporarily by nominal treaties of peace, but actually protracted beyond the lifetime of William, until the power of France had been beaten down by Marlborough, and peace was secured by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Hobbema, the last of the great Dutch painters of the seventeenth century, had died six years before.

Peace removed the barriers that Holland had erected for her self-preservation. Her artists, like her traders, wandered afield. The old centripetal tendency, which compelled the artist to find initiative in his own surroundings at home and so bred a distinctly Holland school, was superseded by the tendency to look for motive outside. The painter found it in Italy; he and his art became Italianate. This is not to say that the Holland painters of the eighteenth century are without merit. The best undoubtedly have a charm of their own; but it is not of the kind that one has learned to recognize and respect in the earlier pictures, as being a characteristic product of a nation fighting to maintain the integrity and independence of its nationality. The charm is by comparison slender and superficial, the product, not of originality, but of imitation. For the art of Holland had ceased to be the expression of conviction, and no longer exemplified the morality that had given character to its motive and unimpeachable integrity to its technique.


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