Pictures At The Hague
( Originally Published 1925 )
THERE are two new Rembrandts in the galleries of the Mauritshuis, lent by Prof. A. Bredius, director of the Royal Picture Gallery at The Hague. Neither is an "important" picture in the professional sense of that word, but they are Rembrandts at least one is indubitable and that suffices. The more credible of the pair is a small canvas depicting Andromeda manacled to the rocks. Her figure is draped to the waist; it is a solid Dutch figure, ugly as the one of Potiphar's wife (in an etching by Rembrandt), and no deliverer is in sight. The flesh tones are rather cold, a cadaverous white, but it is a Rembrandt white. The picture as a whole is sketchy and without charm or mystery. Nevertheless, the lion's paws are there. The other shows us a woman reading at a table. The colouring is warm and the still-life accessories are richly and minutely painted: Not a likely Rembrandt, either in theme or notably so in treatment. We must bow, however, to the judgement of the learned Bredius who made the ascription, These two works are notas yet in the catalogue. It is a pity the catalogue to this gale is not as complete as those of the Rijks Museum. To visitors they offer an abridged one, dated 1904. There are since then many new pictures, notably a sterling Chardin, marvellously painted, and an excellent landscape by Van Cuyp, both loans of Dr. Bredius.
Otherwise this little collection is as choice and as entertaining as ever. The usual tourist makes at once for the overrated Young Bull by Paul Potter and never looks at the magnificent Weenix across the room, the Dead Swan, with its velvety tones. The head of a young girl by Vermeer, with its blue turban and buff coat, its pearl earrings, is charming. And the View of Delft seems as fresh as the day it was painted. The long façade of the houses and warehouses and the churches and towers facing the river are rendered with a vivacity of colour, a solidity in drawing, and an absence of too marked literalism which prove that this gifted artist had more than one style. The envelope is rich; there is air, though it be stagnant. Downstairs is an allegorical subject, The New Testament, which is not very convincing as a composition, but warm in tint. The Diana and Her Companions must have inspired Diaz and many other painters. But the real Vermeer, the Vermeer of the enamelled surfaces and soft pervasive lighting, is at Amsterdam.
No place is better than The Hague for the study of the earlier Rembrandt. Dr. Tulp's Anatomical Lecture is, after the Potter bull, the most gazed-at canvas in the Mauritshuis. It is not in a good condition. There are evidences of over-varnishing and cobbling; nor is it a very inspiring canvas. The head of Dr. Tulp is superb in characterisation, and there is one other head, that of a man with inquiring eyes, aquiline profile, the head strained forward (his name is given in the critical works on Rembrandt), which arrests the attention. An early composition, we are far from the perfection of The Syndics. The self-portrait of the painter (1629) is a favourite, though the much vaunted feather in the head-gear is stiff; perhaps feathers in Holland were stiff in those days. But the painters flock to this portrait and never tire of copying its noble silhouette. The two little studies of the painter's father and mother are characteristic. One, of the man, is lent by Dr. Bredius. Rembrandt's brother (study of an old man's head) shows a large old chap with a nose of richest vintage. The portrait is brown in tone and without charm. The Susanna Bathing is famous, but it is not as attractive as Simeon in the Temple, with its masterly lighting, old gold in the gloom. The Homer never fails to warm the cockles of the imagination. What bulk! What a wealth of smothered fire in the apparel! The big Saul listening to the playing of David is still mystifying. Is Saul smiling or crying behind the uplifted cloak? Is he contemplating in his neurasthenia an attempt on David's life with a whizzing lance? His sunken cheeks, vague yet sinister eye, his turban marvellous in its iridescence, form an ensemble not to be forgotten.
David is not so striking. From afar the large, canvas-glows. And the chiaroscuro is miraculous.
The portrait of Rembrandt's sister, the Flight Into Egypt, the small, laughing man, the negroes, and the study of an old woman, the latter wearing a white headdress, are a mine of joy for the student. The sister's head is lent by Dr. C. Hofstede de Groot, the art expert.
There are only thirty-odd Rembrandts in Holland out of the five hundred and fifty he painted. Of this number eighteen are in the Mauritshuis. Holland was not very solicitous formerly of her masters. Nowadays sentiment has changed and there is a gratifying outcry whenever a stranger secures a genuine old master. As for the copies, they, like the poor, are always with us. America is flooded every year with forged pictures, especially of the minor Dutch masters, and excellent are these imitations, it must be confessed.
There are only four specimens of Frans Hats here; portraits of Jacob Pieterez, Aletta Hanemans, his wife; of William Croes, and the head of a man, a small picture in The Jolly Toper style. The lace collar is genuine Hals.
Let us close our catalogue and wander about the galleries. German and English are the tongues one hears, Dutch seldom, French occasionally. The Potter bull with the wooden legs is stared at by hundreds. As a picture painted, by a very young man it is noteworthy. The head of the beast is nobly depicted. But what of the remain-der of this insignificant composition with its, toad and cows, its meaningless landscape? The Weenix swan is richer in paint texture. The Holbeins are two anyhow - of splendid quality. Of the Rubenses it is better to defer mention until Antwerp is reached. They are of unequal value. The same may be said of the Van Dycks. Look at that baby girl standing by a chair. A Govert Flinck. How truthful! The De Heems are excellent fruit and flower pieces. Excellent, too, the Huysums, Hondecoeters, and Weenixes. There is a dead baby of the Dutch school (1661) which is as realistic as a Courbet. We admired the small Memlic, or Memling, and, naturally, the Metsus, Mierevelts, and Mierises. The Holy Virgin and Infant Christ, by Murillo, is tender and sleek in colour. It hangs near the solitary Velasquez of the museum, a portrait of Charles-Baltasar, son of King Philip IV of Spain. It is not a remarkable Velasquez.
The Pieter Lastman, a Resurrection of Lazarus, is of interest because this painter was a preceptor of Rembrandt. William Kalf's still-life is admirable, and the Aert Van den Neer moonlight scene (purchased 1903) is a lovely example of this artist. Indeed, all the minor Dutchmen are well represented. Potter's much-praised Cow in the Water is faded, and the style is of the sort we smile over at our own Academy exhibitions. The Van Goyen waterscapes are not all of prime quality, but there are two that are masterpieces. Amsterdam excels in both Van Goyens and Jacob Ruisdaels. The Distant View of Haarlem of the latter proved a disappointment The colour is vanished quite, the general effect flat. The Bol portrait of Admiral de Ruyter is a sterling specimen. The Van Veldes and Wouvermans are excellent. The Good Housekeeper of Dou, a much-prized picture, with its tricky light and dark. The Teniers and Ostades no longer interest us as they did. Perhaps one tires soon of genre pictures. The inevitable toper, the perambulating musician, the old woman standing in a doorway, the gossips, the children, and the dog not house-broken may stand for the eternal Ostade, while the merry-makings of David Teniers are too much alike. However, this touch 0f spleen is the outcome of seeing so many bituminous canvases.
Probably in no other painter's name have so many sins been committed as in Rembrandt's. His chiaroscuro is to blame for thousands of pictures executed in the tone of tobacco juice. All the muddy browns of the studio, with the yellow smear that passes for Rembrandtish light, are but the monkey tricks of lesser men. His pupils often made a mess of it, and they were renowned. Terburg's Despatch is an interesting anecdote; so too Metsu's Amateur Musicians. There are the average number of Dutch Italianate painters,Jan Both and the rest, men who employed southern backgrounds and improvised bastard Italian figures. Schalcken's candlelight scenes are not missing, though Dou leads in this rather artificial genre. And every tourist led by a guide hears that Wouvermans always introduced a white horse somewhere in his picture. You leave Holland obsessed by that white animal.
Naturally the above notes hardly scratch the surface of the artistic attractions in this Hague gallery. Not the least of them is to look out on the Vyver lake and watch the swans placidly swimming around the emerald islet in the middle. The Mauritshuis is a cabinet of gems, and months could not stale its variety. There are important omissions, and some of the names in the catalogue are not represented at top-notch. But the Rembrandts are there, and there are the Potters, the Rubenses, the Van Dycks, the Jan Steens his Oyster Feast is here — the landscape and marine painters, not to mention the portraiture, the Muril-lo, Palma Vecchio, and the Titian. The single Roger van der Weyden, an attribution, is a Crucifixion, and hangs near the Memlig. It is an interesting picture. Of the sculpture there is not much to write. Houdon, Hendrick de Keyser, Verhulst, Falconet, Blommendael, and Xavery make up a meagre list.
At Baron Steengracht's house - admission by personal card on the Vyverberg there is a wonderful Rembrandt, Bathsheba After Her Bath, a golden-toned canvas, not unlike the Susanna over at the Mauritshuis. It was painted in 1643, about a year after he had finished The Night Watch, a jewel of a Rembrandt and the clou of this collection. There are some weak modern pictures and examples by Terburg, Metsu, Flinck, Jordaens, Cuyp., Potter, Brouwer — the smoker, a fine work; a Hobbema mill and others. In the Municipal Museum, full of curiosities in furniture, armour, and costumes, there is a gallery of modern paintings — Israel, David Bles, Mesdag, Neuhuys, Bisschop, J. Maris, Weissenbruch, Bosboom, Blommers, and Mauve. There are also Mierevelts, Jan Ravensteyns, Honthorst, Van Goyen, Van Ceulen, and a lot of shooting-gallery (Doelen) and guild panoramas; there are miles of them in Holland, and unless painted by Hals, Van der Helst, Elias, and a few others are shining things of horror, full of staring eyes, and a jumble of hands, weapons, and dry colours. But they are viewed with religious awe by the Dutch, whose master passion is patriotic sentiment.
There is the Huis ten Bosch (The House in the Wood), the royal villa, a little over a mile from The Hague, in which De Wit's grisailles may be seen. The Japanese and orange rooms are charming; the portraits by Everdingen, Honthorst, Jordaens, and others are of historic interest.