Dutch Masters at the Met


There are only two styles of portrait painting:

the serious and

the smirk.

Charles Dickens


Halima Aden in Vermeer’s Girl With The Pearl Earring, Harper’s Bazaar Oct 2017

The exhibit that just opened at the Met yesterday brings together sixty seven of the Museum’s greatest works by Dutch Masters.  In Praise of Painting orients visitors to key issues in seventeenth-century Dutch culture—from debates about religion and conspicuous consumption to painters’ fascination with the domestic lives of women.

This fresh perspective on the Dutch Golden Age unites paintings typically displayed separately in the Museum’s galleries. Rembrandt’s Gerard de Lairesse and Lairesse’s own Apollo and Aurora are presented side by side for a thematic and visually compelling narrative about the tensions between realism and idealism during this period. My favorites from a few of the grand masters featured:

Virtually ignored in his own time, Johannes Vermeer is now considered an Old Master. His fascination was the faithful reproduction of beautiful light on canvas best seen on his most famous work Girl With a Pearl Earring. Using the camera obscura that became available in the Netherlands in the mid-17th century, Vermeer’s best works generally feature windows, and Vermeer would use his new tool to depict the light shining through them in ways never before seen in his time.Johannes Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring (which inspired the Harper’s Bazaar interpretation with model Halima Aden at the top of this page) appears seductive precisely because of her restraint and the gorgeously observed fabrics. The coy glance lends it a sense of undefinable mystery,

Danaë (finished in 1636) is Rembrandt van Rijn’s best nude painting and one of his greatest masterpieces. It depicts Danaë, the mother of the ancient Greek mythological hero Perseus, welcoming Zeus who came to her in the form of golden rain. This painting was bought by Catherine II of Russia in the 1770s and has been housed in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg ever since.

Considered the greatest and most famous portrait painter of all time, Rembrandt was a master of observation, chiaroscuro and, perhaps most importantly, brutal honesty, as seen in his self-portraits. These depict the ravages of time on the artist’s face without any sense of vanity, and are heartbreaking when seen in succession.

A generation older than Rembrandt, many of the great’s works would not have been possible without the work of Frans Hals. Hals’ work featured looser brushwork than any who had come before him, introducing a lively sense of movement and a lived-in quality to many of studies. The most famous example of this being The Laughing Cavalier.

Unlike many traditional Baroque artists, Hals did not paint completely objectively. He would create an atmosphere and a different sense of composure for each subject to convey a true sense of self in his paintings. In this way he would accentuate not only their status in society through various symbolic gestures and dress but also portray features of the sitter that made them human.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share the painting that most inspires you.


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