Text by Diane LeBow, photography by John Montgomery
Many people know Johannes Vermeer’s painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (1665) from Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 historical novel Girl with a Pearl Earring, as well as a 2003 film starring Scarlett Johansson. The art exhibition featuring treasures from the Mauritshuis, a 17th century gem of a museum, visits San Francisco’s De Young Museum through June 2, 2013. By the way, the name de Young is of Dutch origin. San Francisco is the first North American host of this exhibition of treasures which rarely if ever travel. The two year renovations underway at the Mauritshuis provided the opportunity for this exhibition to visit the United States.
The exhibition brings back memories of the four years I lived in the Netherlands during my twenties and often visited this charming museum which is located in The Hague, seat of the Dutch government since 1588. The paintings in this exhibition at the De Young especially the depictions of warm interiors and the gezelligheit, or coziness, that the Dutch love so much, still ring true of life today in the Netherlands. The chilly and drizzly climate especially makes cozy times indoors, sharing food and drink with friends and family, central to Dutch life. In fact, I only really appreciated Ruysdael’s spectacular clouds and skies after living under Dutch skies myself. Some of the famous paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, and others in this exhibition illustrate the Holland I recall with much fondness.
The 17th century, known as the Dutch Golden Age, was a time of prosperity, a rising middle class, Dutch exploration and colonialization around the world, and notably much brilliant art highlighted by new techniques with special attention to depiction of light. Dutch and American connections are many. Because of Dutch religious tolerance, the Pilgrims left England and took shelter in Leiden, Holland, before departing for the New World in 1620, where they founded Plymouth.
The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, originally a city palace built between1633-1644, was purchased by the Dutch government and opened as a museum in 1822. Its first collection was donated by royalty, the Princes of Orange.
This exhibition contains only 35 paintings but each one is a masterpiece from Vermeer’s Girl with Pearl Earring, often described as the Dutch Mona Lisa; Ruysdael’s wild skies and landscapes; Jan Steen’s humorous depictions of everyday life and detailed interiors; Rembrandt’s robust Elderly Man; Rachel Ruysch’s complex Vase of Flowers; and Frans Hals’ tronies, a unique type of portrait which became popular in the 17th century, reflecting the prosperous middle class interest in personal portraits that contained individualistic detail.
While you are in Golden Gate Park visiting the exhibition, be sure and have a look at the two authentic Dutch windmills located near Ocean Beach. One of them is the largest windmill of its type in the world.
Celebrate the Dutch Queen’s Birthday on April 26, 2013, 6-8:45 p.m. at the de Young with music, Dutch food, and of course enjoy the museum’s exhibitions.
The de Young Museum is located at Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Docent talks about the Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis will take place on Sunday, Feb. 3 at 1 p.m.; Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 1 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 24 at 2:15 p.m. For more information about events related to the exhibit visit deyoungmuseum.orgMauritshuis runs through June 2.