I have been meaning to expand my coverage of painters, particularly Flemish painters from the Dutch “Golden Age” and I have decided to begin with another of my favorites, Gerrit Dou (1613-1675). He created exquisite small, often dark paintings that often remind us of his contemporaries. These posts will cover paintings from multiple museums, rather than focusing on a single collection. After learning to paint from his father, a glass engraver, Gerrit Dou was apprenticed to a distinguished printmaker and glass painter, receiving additional formal artistic training from the Leiden glaziers' guild. At 15, he was appointed to the enviable position of apprentice in Rembrandt's studio, where he studied for six years. After Rembrandt left Leiden in 1631, his influence on Dou waned. Dou continued to paint on wood in a small scale but adopted cooler colors and a more highly refined technique characteristic of the fijnschilders (fine painters), a group of Leiden artists who painted small, highly finished pictures. Portraits in impasto gave way to domestic genre subjects (everyday scenes), enamel-smooth and rich in accessory details. These paintings are small, remember that you can click on any image in this website to enlarge them.
We were at the Louvre recently with Lisa's sister to show her some of my favorite Flemish painters and we stopped at the area devoted to Rembrandt. We happened to meet a nice French gentleman, Gaston, who was kind enough to share his favorite painting shown above, Philosophe en Méditation from 1632. While my French and his English was not perfect, we had a lovely conversation about the painting and I was inspired to write a post.
The Montparnasse Tower (Tour Montparnasse), built in 1973, was one of the first skyscrapers in Paris. A visit to the tower's observation deck is rewarded with a magnificent view over the city. Constructed from 1969 to 1972, it was the tallest skyscraper in France until 2011, when it was surpassed by the 231 m (758 ft) Tour First. The project started as a redevelopment scheme of the Montparnasse and Maine railway stations in 1958 and had strong support from the new government. The tower's simple architecture, large proportions and monolithic appearance have been often criticized for being out of place in Paris's urban landscape. Two years after its completion, the construction of skyscrapers in the city center was banned. All that having been said, it is a great place to see Paris from above, without the long lines at the Eiffel Tower. It stays open until 10:30 PM so you can see the lights. From the top of the Tour Montparnasse you can see the Eiffel Tower against the semicircular Palais de Chaillot and the Paris skyline as seen in the photo above.
This cuneiform map of the Babylonian world is an archeological treasure on a par with the Rosetta Stone and the code of Hammurabi. The Babylonian World Map, also known as Imago Mundi is usually dated to the 6th century BCE and is the one of the oldest known world maps and certainly the most famous. We saw this when we were at the British Museum for the Olympics and I thought I would do some posts on famous ancient maps. An inscription on the Babylonian World Map indicates that it was a copy of a previous map and the locations featured on the map indicate that the original could not have been created earlier than the 9th century BCE. The back of the tablet is covered with cuneiform mainly describing Seven Islands or regions which are depicted in the form of equal triangles rising beyond the circle of the Earthly Ocean.
The Pont Neuf runs between the right and left banks of the Seine River in the middle of Paris, on its way touching one end of the Ile de la Cite where Notre Dame stands. As you can see in the photograph it is divided into two parts, one of seven arches joining the right bank to the Île de la Cité, another of five joining the island to the left bank. The little park in the center is called Square du Vert-Galant, a park named in honor of Henry IV, who was nicknamed the “Green Gallant”. The park is a great place to relax if you are at Notre Dame or the Louvre, go up to the other end of the island if you are at Notre Dame or just down from the Louvre. The best views are from the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge just upstream, which is why I included both in the post. Get some ice creme from Berthillon (see my post) or bring a lunch.
‘Gypsy Girl’ (also known as ‘Bohemian’) is an oil painting on wood created by Frans Hals in approximately 1628-1630. It depicts a young gypsy wench who appears to be slightly leaning her right arm on a table or counter, and bears a sly and somewhat mischievous smile on her face. Each brush stroke has been exquisitely executed as to create a particular elegance to her burly physique. She seems to be facing a window that illuminates her face, drawing the viewer’s attention to her voluptuous breasts. She dons a red overdress, with a low-cut white shirt underneath. Hals well-known portraiture talents are most apparent in ‘Gypsy Girl’ as he masterfully contrasts her hardened street-smart appearance with the soft, natural beauty of her inner self. She seems happy with her life.
Hals was a master of a technique that utilized something previously seen as a flaw in painting, the visible brushstroke. The soft curling lines of Hals' brush are always clear upon the surface: “materially just lying there, flat, while conjuring substance and space in the eye.” Hals was fond of daylight and silvery sheen, while Rembrandt used golden glow effects based upon artificial contrasts of low light in immeasurable gloom. Both men were painters of touch, but of touch on different keys — Rembrandt was the bass, Hals the treble.
Pieter de Hooch (1617-1684) was a painter during the Dutch Golden Age. The painting shown above is titled “Woman Drinking With Soldiers” done in 1658 at the Louvre. The early work of de Hooch, like most young painters of his time, was mostly composed of scenes of soldiers in stables and taverns, though he used these to develop great skill in light, color, and perspective rather than to explore an interest in the subject matter. The interiors are minutely painted, the figures seem to be less important than the environment in which they are painted. His works are subtly illuminated with lateral sources of light and often feature a series of rooms leading from one to the next.
The painting above is titled “Young Man in a Mitre” (jeune homme a la mitre) by Pieter Van Mol, date unknown. I find this painting to be very beautiful and almost impressionistic. The face and hair are very finely executed while the details of the mitre and robe seem to have been intentionally blurred. The face seems bathed in light, and it is the face and hair that draw you in. The subject seems serious but perhaps because of the hair and age, I feel a tension between the responsibilities of the clergy and the natural exuberance of youth.
I saw this lovely painting at the Louvre, and was struck by the pose and detail of her hair. The painting is titled “Young Woman Combing Her Hair” done in 1635. Salomon de Bray’s skills at observation are evident as is the lighting which seems oddly fresh and vibrant for a Dutch painter. De Bray's artistic development is not well documented. In 1635 he seemed to favor half-length figures, which at that time had become rather old-fashioned. By about 1640, his work showed the influence of Rembrandt van Rijn's “chiaroscuro”. The term chiaroscuro refers to a strong, self-conscious juxtaposition of light and shade which results in a stunning visual effect in a work of art. The technique was initially pioneered by Leonardo da Vinci, further developed by Caravaggio, and finally perfected by Rembrandt. I still maintain that the painting above is a masterpiece and despite the genius of Rembrandt, the above representation is very modern.
For me and apparently many others, Vermeer is a guilty pleasure. His paintings are so few and so small that it is hard to get enough of them. I sometimes find myself looking, when we travel, to see if any museums in the area have a Vermeer. Fortunately for me, the Louvre has two. I often wonder why a similar small masterpiece, the Mona Lisa has such a large crowd perpetually glued to it's location while these two small, but exquisite paintings are usually left to themselves. If you visit the Louvre, spend time with with these paintings, the pleasure will last long after you leave. Normally I photograph with the frame, but because these are so small, so beautiful and so loved by everyone, I have enlarged just the painting for both.