For those less familiar, the Rijksmuseum and Public House of Art are a mere five minute walk from each other. It seems only fitting that The Rijks, an exhibition by Public House of Art, was developed to bridge the cultural gap between the two worlds of old and new Amsterdam. Giants of the historic Dutch schools are at the heart of the Rijksmuseum permanent collection, and their history and genre paintings, portraiture and still lives are glints in the eyes of the eight international artists of The Rijks; as they peel away the stylised veneers of the past and apply them on our modern perspectives.
What, secret and unexpected, do we see through these new frames and lens?
Left to right:
Gerard Dou. Girl with an Oil Lamp at a Window. 1645-1675. Oil on Panel.
Leiden Fijnschilder [fine-painter], Gerard Dou (1613-1675), amongst others, was interested in reproducing reality. In an historically censored art world, this is argued to have led to representational secrecy in order to mystify truths. Hence, Dou became a master of illusion. The reality of his 17th century world can be de-coded, and in many cases this reality is ours still. Perhaps what is most unexpected about Dou’s impressions is how little has changed beyond the Dutch pioneers of domestic life - the key to seeing this art is still a sensual awareness and sensitivity to what is in front of you, and the same is true at the Public House of Art.
Amsterdam artist, Maartje Jaquet has courted the Dutch Golden Age painters. She mirrors Dou’s microscopic (so microscopic in fact that he is known to have manufactured his own tiny, fine paintbrushes) precision in her photo collage overlaying technique - at first you might only notice the reproductive qualities of her Red Light Charms to Dou’s Girl with an Oil Lamp at a Window (1645-75). However, furthermore, Jaquet has translated the eroticism to be found in many of Dou’s measured yet mischievous paintings to resonate with modern erotic Amsterdam - look closer and you’ll see the faint candlelit background scene of Girl with an Oil Lamp substituted for red strip lighting and an information sticker on the window through which the Girl continues to haunt.
From left to right:
Jenny Boot’s Delilah runs further with the finesse of the Dutch school(s). Her negotiation of lace is a typical subject of artists such as Dou and Vermeer (both with Lacemaker portraits). Dutch photographer and art director, Jasper Abels also offers the visceral inclusion of bubble-wrap on his works, to tie up the multi-layers of meaning that make up this exhibition with the fetish of popping, piercing, and hiding behind a transformative substance such as varnish or the art work itself. Through this, the focus changes from the portrayal of the domestic life and work in the Rijksmuseum collection, to the tactile and physical nature of the fabric or material, in the works of The Rijks.
From left to right:
Johannes Vermeer. Milkmaid. c. 1660. Oil on Canvas.
For more Rijksmuseum artists’ secrets, one might look to Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). According to only more recent studies of his life, he seemed to do little other than make art (thank goodness for this at least). This does not leave much room for secrets or the unexpected, especially with our distant proximity to his context. Aside from the photorealistic qualities of Vermeer’s work that echo fundamentally throughout the pieces of The Rijks on principle, an unexpected angle to Vermeer’s painting and how it can be assessed in conjunction with the Public House of Art exhibition lies in his choice of pigments. One thing Colin Firth failed to get across in his film portrayal of the artist is this divisive use of expensive pigments, such as ultramarine (made from lapis lazuli) - this can be seen for the skirt of the milkmaid. More expensive than gold at the time, it is ironically the focus on gold (more commonly considered the ‘utmost’ metal today) that threads Vermeer into the hidden realm of the Public House of Art’s current exhibition.
Despite the colour connection, Vermeer’s Milkmaid (c. 1660), along with other works by Ferdinand Bol and Rembrandt (to whom Dou was a student) are somewhat opposed by Brazilian artist, Carolina Mizrahi in her works concerned for gender and visual representation. Surreal as it may seem to have Mizrahi’s golden portraits starring back at you, the explicit use of certain pigments to glamorise and allude to wealth and beauty is something shared by the Dutch masters of the Rijksmuseum, to glamourise the everyday. But, whereas Vermeer’s subject tends passively yet intently to her work and those in portraits by Bol and Rembrandt are confined by their ‘present’ contexts, Mizrahi’s stare fiercely at the viewer, demanding change.
Has our present changed enough?
Written by Manchester-based freelance writer, Imogen Phoebe Webb for The Public House of Art.