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Famous Dutch Artists

The Netherlands has produced more than its fair share of talented artists and has long enjoyed a reputation for producing some of the finest painters in the world.

The Golden Age

In the seventeenth century, during a period that became known as the Golden Age, several Dutch painters came to prominence, including masters such as Jan Steen, Jan Vermeer, and Albert Cuyp. This incredibly fruitful era also gave birth to one of the most acclaimed Dutch artists of all time, Rembrandt van Rijn, renowned for his skilful manipulation of light and dark.

Today the paintings from this elite club of painters are intrinsically linked to the Netherlands and are reproduced on tins of ‘stroopwafels’ (syrup waffles), postcards and other typical souvenirs sold in supermarkets and tourist kiosks up and down the country.

Rembrant van Rijn

Born in the Dutch city of Leiden in 1606, Rembrandt van Rijn became the most celebrated Dutch artist from the fertile Golden Age.

After studying art in Leiden, he moved to Amsterdam to be schooled by Pieter Lastman, noted for his detailed paintings of historic scenes. Despite enjoying considerable early success as a portrait painter, Rembrandt struggled financially, largely due to his own extravagant spending habits, which ultimately led to financial hardship. He also experienced an unusual amount of personal misfortune, losing three of his young children and his wife Saskia, who died after giving birth to their fourth child. He appears to have harnessed this suffering and used it in his paintings, which display an exceptional degree of insight and compassion, which is perhaps why he became known as ‘one of the great prophets of civilisation’. In addition to creating more than three hundred paintings, three hundred sketches and over two thousand drawings in the popular Baroque style, Rembrandt also found the time to teach other up-and-coming artists.

His eye-catching post-impressionist works appeal to a wide audience and his portraits, self portraits and biblical scenes remain some of his best loved work. The artist is so revered in the Netherlands, that the Rijksmuseum has devoted an entire room to one of his most distinguished paintings, ‘The Night Watch’ and there is a bronze statue of the painter at Rembrandtplein, a busy square in Amsterdam named in his honour.

Rembrandt was a member of the prestigious ‘Hollandse School’ of art which included two other talented Dutch artists from the Golden Age in its ranks – Jan Vermeer and Jan Steen.

Jan Steen

Jan Steen also hailed from the Dutch city of Leiden. Born to a well-to-do Catholic family who owned a local inn, Steen left the family trade to pursue a career in art and enrolled in the Painters Guild. He benefited from an unparalleled education under the tutorship of Nicolaes Knupfer, a German painter whose positive influence can be observed in Steen’s clever use of composition and colour.

Steen split his time between the Dutch cities of Haarlem, Leiden and the Hague, where his work developed a consistent theme of everyday scenes and ordinary people. Unlike many of his peers, twice married Steen managed to survive the dramatic Dutch art market crash in 1672, in what became known as the ‘Year of the Disaster’, by turning to family tradition and opening his own successful tavern.

His most important works display a heightened emotional awareness that are characterised by a generous use of both colour and humour. One of his most praised pieces is the ‘Feast of St. Nicholas’, which is said to portray his own family as they enjoy a festive meal at Sinterklaas (a popular Dutch children’s celebration).

Jan Vermeer

Born in the picturesque city of Delft and reputed to have been taught by another Dutch master, Rembrandt, Jan Vermeer devoted his entire career to creating art that was a triumph of colour and light. He was notably less prolific than his contemporaries and tended to focus on quality rather than quantity, which might explain why he only achieved moderate success during his lifetime. He died penniless, which according to his wife, was as a direct result of stress related to his financial woes.

His paintings focused on intimate scenes of domestic, middle class life in the Netherlands and often honed in on just one or two key figures. His most memorable works, the ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, the ‘Milkmaid’ and the ‘Woman With a Water Jug’ all exhibit this hallmark.

Albert Cuyp

Albert Cuyp benefited from artistic genes. He came from a long line of painters and was tutored by his artist father, Jacob Cuyp. He is especially admired for his stunning paintings of classic Dutch landscapes, captured in the subdued light of early morning or late afternoon.

The bustling Albert Cuyp market in de Pijp is situated in an Amsterdam street named after this acclaimed artist. The market is a must for tourists, who come to purchase typical Dutch food products and Dutch souvenirs and are often oblivious to its artistic connections!

The Fall and Rise of Dutch Art

In the 18th century the Dutch art scene took a bit of back seat. At the time, Dutch painters struggled to match the flourishing success of fashionable French and British artists. Luckily this was only a temporary blip and the end of the Golden Age, wasn’t the death of Dutch art.

The appearance of the Haagse School (Hague School), comparable to the celebrated Barbizon School in France, helped trigger a revival of Dutch art in the 19th century. By far the most significant artist to surface during this time was the eminent post-impressionist painter, Vincent Van Gogh.

Vincent van Gogh

Although Vincent Van Gogh is universally regarded as one of the most important painters of all time, the devoted promoter of modern art, who displayed a brilliant and unique talent for self portraits, portraits and landscapes, went almost unrecognised during his lifetime.

In 1886 he left his native Holland for France where he befriended the accomplished French painter Gauguin, and began to avidly study French impressionism. Van Gogh had an artistic temperament and suffered from an acutely insecure nature and he often complained that Gauguin didn’t rate him highly enough, which resulted in a strained friendship. They quarrelled frequently and in one legendary exchange van Gogh actually confronted Gauguin with a razor blade, which he used instead to cut off his own left ear. In fact he was tormented by mental illness and depression throughout his prolific career, a career that left a legacy of more than 900 paintings and countless sketches and drawings.

Sadly, at the very height of his genius and at just 37 years of age, van Gogh took his own life by shooting himself in the chest. He left an inspirational collection of work that includes such masterpieces as the ‘Sunflowers’, the ‘Wheat Fields’ and his magnificent self portraits.

Dutch Art in the 20th Century and the New Millennium

The 20th Century saw the emergence of a new breed of gifted artists such as Jan Toorop and Piet Mondrian, who brought a renewed sense of vitality to the Dutch art world. This is a trend that looks set to continue well into the 21st century and beyond.

Jan Toorop

Born in Java in the former Dutch colony of the Dutch East Indies, Jan Toorop relocated to the Netherlands in 1872. After studying in Delft, famous for its Delft Blue Pottery, he moved to Amsterdam. In 1880 he enrolled at the prestigious Rijksacadamie a classical Academia where philosophers, academics and artists all came together to test and exchange ideas and knowledge. Afterwards he moved to Brussels where he dabbled in a variety of artistic techniques such as Realism, Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. After marrying an English woman, he divided his time between the Hague, Brussels and England, honing his own, unique ‘Symbolist’ style of art. His paintings were strongly influenced by both his Javanese roots and Art Nouveau, but after converting to Catholicism his later work, which included illustrations, posters and stained glass, took on a more overtly religious flavour.

Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian was born to a devout protestant family and introduced to art at a tender age by his art teacher father. He studied at the Amsterdam Academy of Fine Art in 1892, before following his father’s example and becoming a teacher, whilst pursuing his love for painting in his spare time.

His early work featured iconic Dutch landscapes of windmills, polders and rivers but as he matured, his work developed a more abstract style that embraced Cubism. He contributed significantly to the Dutch ‘De Stijl’ art movement, although he cultivated his own, unique genre which he called ‘Neo-Plasticism’. His works became instantly recognisable, with their black grid lines and two or three blocks of primary colours. These compositions might look simple, but they reveal a sophisticated level of complexity upon further study. In 1940 he moved to New York where one of his final works ‘Broadway Boogie Woogie’ took clear inspiration from his vibrant surroundings.

Museum Plein

If you would like to learn more about Dutch artists or view some of their beautiful paintings, why not visit Museum Plein in Amsterdam? Here you can take in both the Van Gogh and the Rijks Museum, which boast a comprehensive collection of Dutch art and perhaps enjoy a cup of coffee with a lovely slice of Dutch ‘appeltaart’ in one of the square’s pleasant cafes afterwards.

One comment on “Famous Dutch Artists

  1. Pingback: Ice skating: from much-loved pastime to Dutch national sport | Dutch Community

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