Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dutch Golden Age Still Life at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

   Visiting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) this week has been a revealing experience. The collection includes many paintings from the Dutch Golden Age, including Rembrandt Van Rijn, Pieter Claesz, Ambrosious Bosschaert the Elder, Clara Peeters, Jan Van Huysum, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Willem Kalf, Willem Claesz Heda, Frank Hals and others. Unlike most museums out there that place decorative arts objects separated from the paintings, 

LACMA has ingeniously included many objects of the period in the same rooms as the paintings. This is great idea and it makes easier to connect the buckelpokals (see at right), great salt cellars, venetian glasses, nautilus cup (left) and ewers with the still life paintings on the wall. 

I must say that looking at the paintings in person is a far more rewarding experience than the image of them. I always thought that photography would achieve the same level of detail of these paintings but I may have been wrong. The technique and skill level of these masters is something that will just leave you in awe. You can't see the brush strokes unless in small tiny highlights areas or when representing gold. Look at this detailed that I captured with my camera, there are no strokes they look like a photograph but at this level of zoom they are probably sharper. 
One of the museum’s main pieces is Bosschaet’s "Bouquet of flowers on a ledge" (at left my own version), it is located in a corner in its own niche and lights (see at right). I was very surprised to see how small was this painting is. I can’t imagine how Bosschaert achieved the level of detail within such a small space. I can see why this painting would blow away collectors back in XVII Century Netherlands. The flowers colors are very vivid and the image is crisp and sharp. No wonder why Bosschaert commanded such high prices for his creations as he did. It is on record that he sold one of his paintings for 1000 guilders to a member of the Orange family (sort of the royal family at the time, but the Dutch version of it because the called United Provinces were a republic). 

Another very impressive painting was “Bouquet of Flowers in an Urn” by Jan van Huysum (1724) . I tried to capture the detail and maybe a bit of the texture that he imprinted on the tulip, but without a tripod which obviously is not allowed, it is nearly impossible. Van Huysum details are simply amazing, I don't think that you can actually produce that detail with a photographic camera and still obtain the lighting seeing in the painting. There are ants and other insects all over the flowers, they are so small and look so real that it is hard not to feel compelled to brush them away from the painting (left).

 Rembrandt’s disciple, Samuel van Hoogstraten in his Introduction to the Academy of Painting” treatise categorized the art of painting into three levels. Historic painting took the highest mark, followed by pastoral romances and genre painting, then at the bottom of the ladder the still lifes. He based the categories on his perceived amount of creativity required to create paintings in each category. 

But in regardless of what Hoogrstraten believed, these Still Lifes demonstrate an unparalleled level of skill, technique, creativity and artistic talent. The ways the colors are blended while still getting a crisp, sharp image are simply amazing. No wonder why they are regarded as masterpieces and their creators are now recognized as some of the best of what is called the Dutch Golden Age.
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