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Art and Culture in the Netherlands

Every year an increasing number of tourists from around the world explore the Netherland’s impressive selection of museums. In 2010 the most popular of these shared some 12 million visitors between them! The best loved still remain the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the fascinating Anne Frank House, all of which can be found in the capital city, Amsterdam. The huge appeal of Dutch art is not new – in fact the Dutch Masters were already enjoying worldwide fame in the seventeenth century.

Dutch Art – An Ongoing Success Story

The period that followed the international recognition of the ‘Republic of the Seven United Netherlands’ in the seventeenth century, was an immensely prosperous one. It was during this time that Dutch art, in addition to trade and commerce, first began to flourish.

The most famous Dutch painter to emerge from this ‘Golden Age’ was Rembrandt van Rijn who became known for his Baroque style and skilful use of light and dark. He had an exceptionally prolific career, producing more than two thousand drawings, three hundred paintings and hundreds of sketches during his lifetime. The celebrated Rijksmuseum has devoted a full room to one of his most acclaimed works, ‘The Night Watch’ and busy Amsterdam tourist area, Rembrandtplein, boasts a splendid bronze statue in honour of this most revered Dutch artist.

Rembrandt belonged to the prestigious ‘Hollandse School’ which included a number of other respected Dutch artists such as Johanes Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen. These painters are legendary for their spectacular Dutch land and cityscapes, which are frequently reproduced on typical Dutch souvenirs such as tins of ‘stroopwafels’ (syrup waffles) and ‘Speculaas’ (Dutch ginger biscuits) which can be found in most Dutch supermarkets and tourist shops.

As the Golden Age finally ran out of steam, so the Dutch art scene took a back seat. It was not until the nineteenth century that the posthumous success of illustrious Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh triggered a revival. His compelling, post-impressionist paintings truly captured the worlds imagination and even today his timeless popularity can be measured in the almost endless queues that wind outside the Van Gogh Museum.

And a fresh crop of talented Dutch artists took the Dutch art scene by storm in the twentieth century. The creative genius of Piet Mondrian, Karel Appel, Corneille and MC Esscher clearly demonstrate that the Dutch tradition for world-class art is alive and kicking.

Dutch Literature – A Colourful Tradition

The Golden Age gave birth to an official Dutch language which in turn, stimulated the development of Dutch literature. There followed a string of eminent Dutch poets and playwrights such as Joost van den Vondel and Pieter Corenelis Hooft. Later, in the nineteenth century the Dutch writer Eduard Douwes Dekker (who went by the pseudonym Multatuli) openly criticised Dutch colonial rule after experiencing many years in the Dutch East Indies. His controversial novel ‘Max Havelaar’ was read all over Europe and he became one of the most important Dutch writers of all time, despite an attempt to stifle his voice.

It was the Second World War, however, that produced the most famous Dutch writer, Anne Frank. For who hasn’t read her gripping diary, chronicling the Nazi persecution of the Dutch Jews and her subsequent retreat into hiding? The remarkable diary was published by her father (the only member of the Frank family to survive the war) and translated into a number of foreign languages. It quickly became an international bestseller and is still widely read today.

Following the war, three other pivotal Dutch writers began to steal the limelight – Harry Mulisch, Willem Frederik and Gerard Reve. And despite the fact that most Dutch authors have struggled to achieve recognition abroad (mainly because the complex Dutch language is not very accessible), several of their books were translated into foreign languages. Indeed, the film version of Harry Mulisch’s ‘The Assault’ even earned an Oscar and a Golden Globe.

Dutch Music – An Unsung Hero?

Dutch music has had little presence on the global stage, although a few Dutch bands such as Golden Earring, Shocking Blue, Earth & Fire, enjoyed moderate success in the 1970’s. In the last ten years this trend has reversed slightly, with several Dutch DJ’s in particular, gaining an international following.

The Dutch nation of course, has its home grown favourites – during the 1960’s and 1970’s these were singer songwriters such as Boudewijn de Groot and Rob de Nijs. More recently Frank Boeijen, Guus Meeuwis, Marco Borsato and Rene Froger all enjoyed mainstream popularity. And the Netherlands even boasts its own, unique brand of music known as ‘zangers van het levenslied’ which is characterised by mournful ballads. Artists from this genre include the much-loved crooners, Willy Alberti and Andre Hazes (a working class hero from de Pijp in Amsterdam). Today their spirit lives on in a new generation of performers such as current national treasure, Jan Smit.

The Dutch also appreciate international music and host several live music festivals and pop concerts each year, including Pinkpop, Lowlands and the North Sea Jazz Festival.

Dutch Architecture and the Amsterdamse School Movement

Dutch architecture became extremely prominent in the nineteenth century, thanks mainly to Berlage who was heavily influenced by Art Nouveau, Rationalism and later, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. During the 1920’s and 1930’s he established a movement known as the ‘Amsterdamse School’, whose buildings are distinctive for their steep roofs, curved walls, decorative masonry, wrought ironwork and instantly recognisable windows featuring an unusual number of horizontal bars. There are some beautiful examples of the Amsterdamse School in many of the pre-war districts of Amsterdam such as Oud-Zuid.

The Dutch National Heritage

It is not only the world class Dutch artists, writers and musicians that have contributed to a vibrant Dutch culture. The pretty bridges and canals of Amsterdam, iconic Dutch windmills, typical Dutch dykes and polders, have all shaped the beautiful Dutch national heritage as we know and love it. It is only right then that these living relics, which can be viewed the length and breadth of the country, are protected for the enjoyment of future generations and visitors from around the world.

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