Leiden & The Hague: Holland

High Art in the Low Countries

Leiden & The Hague


In this vastly visual world sometimes it pays to go back to the source material.  I’ll try to explain what I mean today we have logos, adverts, even films and icons that draw on the world’s vast heritage of art.  Let’s face it you can’t look anywhere in a bookshop or online without coming across a reference to a great master be it Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa in a matter of minutes.  But how often do we actually connect with art?  What can it do for us?  What did it do when it was painted?  Why are we drawn to it so?

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Art is the new rock ‘n’ roll or so it seems. It’s everywhere.  High profile new unearthing of lost greats such as the recently discovered Tutu by Nigerian Ben Enwonwu, unseen since 1974, fiercely contested export licences for national treasures such as the rare oil sketch on paper of an African Man Wearing Turban by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (buyer required please, only £7.7m needed to keep it in the country).  Everyone’s favourite Latino actor Antonio Banderas is getting in on the act staring as the lead in Genius:Picasso which has just wrapped in Budapest.  Art really is becoming a reflection of our modern lives and thank goodness for that.

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The 17thcentury Dutch Golden Age will be the new star of the old this year.  That wonderful creative period of 500 years ago that gave us Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals to name but a few.  From May – Sept 2018 it will be possible to visit the Holbourne Museum, Bath and see 22 works by some of the period’s finest exponents such as Gabriel Metsu, Peter Lely, Simon Pietersz and Rembrandt.  The exhibition will explore what made this period so creative and collectable to the country houses owners of Britain.  The collection is gleaned from National Trust Houses and is a unique presentation.

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If your appetite is wetted but you can’t wait then why not head off as I did to where it all began, Leiden, Holland, the birthplace of Rembrandt in 1606.  A master painter, print maker and draftsman he is considered by some to be the greatest visual artist of all time.  Leiden is a charming town not far on the train from Schipol Airport you could do it comfortably in a day.  The canals are the best way to explore the city, I drifted round on a brilliant barge that had a roof that lowered to accommodate passage under some very low bridges (you have to bend down and hope for the best).  A guide informed me of how the rich were buried in the church as they could pay (the poor of course were just dumped outside the city walls) but as each burial took place in the church the entrance to the crypt of the church started to smell odious hence the saying ‘Stinking Rich’.

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Sadly Rembrandt’s house no longer stands but the site where his father had a mill now has a replica windmill (this is Holland after all) and there are wholesale renovations increasing its size by 50% going on at the Lakenhal Museum, which will open again in 2019.  There are plenty of other sites to visit including the extraordinary botanical gardens established in 1590.  The Victorian green house is especially worth looking in on.

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Holland is a great size to visit as nothing is too far away.  I went to The Mauritshuis (Maurice House) in The Hague.  This is a powerhouse of a gallery, which contains 841 objects from the Royal Collection most of which are Dutch Golden Age paintings.  It is here that I saw Vanmeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, his haunting view of Delft, Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulip, Two Moors and his enigmatic 1669 self-portrait.  But that’s only the beginning.  Hendrick Avercamp’s On the Ice and Peter Paul Rubens Night Scene are here too.

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They have a rolling exhibition space as well on my visit it had 20 history paintings by Jan Steen also born in Leiden, a prolific painter of humorous contemporary life, a superb collection of paintings. Each has its own space to breathe and be seen.  The Mauritshuis is a cornucopia of the Golden Age painters that shouldn’t be missed.

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Art for me is the most soothing of experiences it transcends problems, stresses and the daily grind.  Despite being omnipresent it is somehow special when we take the time to make it so.  Take your time, enjoy what you look at, seek out more, the world’s full of it so why not start with high art in the low countries.


Prized possessions:  Dutch Masterpieces from National Trust Houses opens May 25 2018








The Lakenhal reopens in Spring 2019






About Neil

Neil is a food and travel writer and photographer based in London, UK. He's Food & Travel Editor at Families Magazine, as well as a full-time blogger on this site. Impressed? Then you might like to hire his services.

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