Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

By David Galenson of the Huffington Post

To say that Roeland Kramer knows Dutch tiles is a bit like saying that Tiger Woods knows golf.

Roeland and his brother Sebastiaan own Kramer Kunst & Antiek, a large antique store at the corner of Nieuwe Spiegelstraat (Amsterdam’s Antiques Row) and the Prinsengracht Canal, that specializes in Delftware and tiles. The shop has been in Roeland’s family since the 1970s, when his grandfather bought it; Roeland began working there in 1990, when he was 10 years old, and he has never left. In addition to working at the shop, Roeland recently completed a master’s degree at Amsterdam University. His thesis was a study of the tile collection at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. On a recent afternoon, Roeland helped me climb a steep staircase to a balcony overlooking his shop, where we sat for an hour while he gave me a primer on Dutch antique tiles.

Kramer Kunst & Antiek, Amsterdam. All images courtesy Roeland Kramer.

Dutch pottery manufacturers began to make tiles in the 16th century, first influenced by Italian, and later Chinese manufacturers (the famous Dutch blue actually began as an imitation of Chinese porcelain). The Dutch initially used tiles for practical purposes – for safety in the fireplaces of their wooden houses, and in their kitchens. Over time they also began to use tiles for decoration, as the wealthy could show their affluence and taste by displaying more elegant and intricate designs. In the Golden Age of the seventeenth century, there were more than 400 tile factories in Holland; their numbers dwindled over time, and there are only two today.

2013-09-26-deftbluefeats1700.jpg 2013-09-26-delftbluemakewater1675.jpg
Delft blue tile depicting a child
performing feats (ca. 1700).
Delft blue tile depicting a child
“making water” (ca. 1675).

Antique tiles exist in large numbers. Kramer Kunst & Antiek sells about 3,000 a year, from an inventory of 10,000 in the store, but the store has a staggering total of about 500,000 antique tiles at a warehouse outside the city, probably the largest collection of antique tiles in the world. Roeland has traveled all over Holland, removing old tiles from houses that are being renovated. And his experience with tiles lets him read them as if they were written texts.

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Delft blue tile depicting
a perch (ca. 1650).
Delft blue tile depicting
a game of hoops (ca. 1675).

One of the most fascinating things about Dutch tiles is how precisely they can be dated. Among the key variables in determining when and where a tile was made are the kind of clay used, the thickness, the design, the glaze, and the subject. Antique tiles vary greatly in price. Kramer sells beautiful seventeenth-century tiles for as little as €30; these show simple images of common subjects. The rarer the subject, the higher the price. A rare subject in excellent condition can have great value to collectors: Roeland sold one extremely rare tile, a sea creature made in Rotterdam in 1610, for €25,000. Most tiles were made by artisans whose names are not known, but a few individuals have been identified. Pytter Grauda, a painter who worked in Harlingen in the late 17th century, is known for his scenes of chivalry; Kramer has a number of his tiles, which they sell for €300-600.

2013-10-03-delftbluegrauda1625.jpg 2013-10-03-delftbluegrauda1675.jpg
Delft blue tile by Pytter Grauda (ca. 1625). Delft blue tile by Pytter Grauda (ca. 1675).

Dutch tiles continue to be an area of scholarly research. The Rijksmuseum’s collection had not been studied in recent decades, until Roeland spent six months looking through the museum’s 20,000 tiles for his thesis. As a result of his work, some of the museum’s outstanding tiles are currently on display.

2013-09-26-delftbluearmadillo1675.jpg 2013-09-26-delftblueelephant1700.jpg
Delft blue tile depicting
an armadillo (ca. 1675).
Delft blue tile depicting
an elephant (ca. 1700).

Next time you’re in Amsterdam, I strongly recommend including a tour of the Rijksmuseum’s spectacular collection of Delftware, in Special Collections. Afterwards, walk a few blocks north from the museum to see Kramer’s wonderful collection of antique tiles. Roeland Kramer is both knowledgeable and patient in sharing his expertise for Dutch tiles, and after a session with him you might wind up with a beautiful historical souvenir, and perhaps a new hobby.

2013-09-26-deftblue1650.jpg 2013-09-26-delftblue1900.jpg
Delft blue tile depicting
a house (ca. 1650).
Delft blue tile depicting
a house (ca. 1900).

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1921 painting "Odalisque" by Henri Matisse from Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam


Posted on Nov 1 2013 – 11:00am by Randy Gener

In a shocking revelation, Dutch museums say that about 139 major works of art, including dozens of paintings by Henri Matisse, Paul Klee and Vassily Kandinsky, all presently hanging in their buildings may have been Nazi loot, all of it likely having been taken forcibly from Jewish owners.


The revelation is the result of a major in-house investigations of Dutch art acquisitions since 1933, a review that focused explicitly on pieces for which there was any gap in their ownership record during the years that Germany’s Nazi regime was appropriating works from Jews, either by forced sale or outright seizure.


Critics are wondering why it has taken the museums nearly 70 years to examine their collections in a systematic way after World War II.


“These objects are either thought or known to have been looted, confiscated or sold under duress,” said Siebe Weide, director of the Netherlands Museums Association. He said returning them is “both a moral obligation and one that we have taken upon ourselves.”


The tainted art involved 69 paintings, including French artist Henri Matisse’s 1921 “Odalisque” painting of a half-nude reclining woman, which hangs at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, one of the country’s top tourist draws.


All Dutch museums that hold art from before the war participated in the review. They have identified names of 20 definite looting victims and linked them with 61 of the works. The museums said they are in the process of contacting or seeking the heirs, including those of Jewish art dealer Albert Stern, the deceased owner of the Matisse.


The museum had purchased the Matisse painting from Lieuwe Bangma, Stern’s Dutch representative, in 1941. But Stern was its owner before the war and the Bangma family is known to have given aid to his granddaughters during the war.


The Dutch are not the first to undertake such a review in the wake of a 1998 international conference on looted art in Washington, D.C. that found previous attempts to return looted art didn’t go far enough. Attendees from 44 nations proclaimed the Washington Principles, declaring that “every effort should be made to publicize art that is found to have been confiscated by the Nazis” and have it returned.


Many American and British museums have already conducted thorough investigations that have led to the return of looted art, though nothing has been done on a nationwide basis. In Germany, a government-led, nationwide investigation is underway.


The main association of Dutch museums is also launching a website to help explain the existence of art of dubious provenance in their collections and assisting heirs in claims. Visit the website on the Internet here.

Click here for riginal article.

By RUSSELL SHORTO in the New York Times

It only recently occurred to me that one very fine if not exactly intentional purpose for historic preservation is to keep dead people alive. Having spent the past several years living in Amsterdam and researching a book about its history, I now find that virtually anywhere I walk in this city, whose center has been so tenderly and smartly maintained, I am jostled by ghosts.

Some of the ghosts never actually lived in Amsterdam but rather are perennially passing through, eternally re-enacting a moment they spent here.

Every time I cycle down the medieval Oudezijds Voorburgwal canal, for example, and turn to look through the stone gate that leads into the courtyard of the Grand Hotel, I get a glimpse of the reassuringly stolid figure of Winston Churchill, decked out in top hat and overcoat, beaming, tapping his cane on the pavement.

The building that the hotel occupies was a convent in the 16th century, and many other things after that; for much of the last century it served as City Hall, and after World War II, in which the Dutch suffered so much and which the British prime minister helped lead with his special intensity, he made a celebratory appearance here.

Whenever I’m heading west on the Haarlemmerdijk, meanwhile, I encounter a crowd of 19th-century proletariat types coming the other way, eagerly and nervously surrounding a serious man with a wiry mass of gray hair and beard: Karl Marx, who arrived in 1872 to urge workers to unite.

The train station used to be at the other end of this street; the leader of the Communist movement disembarked and headed this way, and lodged in my mind are the reports of the policemen who were assigned to follow his movements.

Not all the ghosts who populate my travels in Amsterdam are famous ones, though most seem to have done fairly consequential things in life. Walking down a narrow, dark alley called the Nes, which extends from the harbor toward the city center, can be a vacant experience — there are some interesting restaurants and bars but few tourist sites, and almost nothing seems of historical note.

But when I’m on the Nes I feel I’m about to run into a tall, handsome, wily man who in his day favored lace collars and a twisty little mustache. His name was Dirck van Os, and, while history has forgotten him, his house on this street (which, alas, no longer exists) could be considered the birthplace of capitalism.

Dirck van Os (Antwerpen 13 maart 1556 – Amsterdam 20 mei 1615) was een Amsterdams koopman.

For four months in 1602, Amsterdammers streamed into his parlor to buy pieces of a new kind of corporation, one that allowed backers to sell their portion at a later date, at a higher (or lower) value. The Dutch East India Company transformed the world, and it made Amsterdam, briefly and improbably, the most powerful city in the world.

But its biggest contribution to history may be in the fact that in this little alley van Os and his merchant colleagues gave birth to the concept of “shares of stock.” A few years later, a little farther down the street, came the first stock exchange. Things would never be the same.

Some ghosts are not attached to a particular street or neighborhood but are coaxed into being by a mood that settles over the city. In the 1870s a mercurial 24-year-old Dutchman from the southern part of the country spent a year here.

He came intending to train for the ministry, but discovered that he wasn’t suited for it. Instead, he roamed Amsterdam’s quays and harborfront, seething, fuming, confused, occasionally erupting with joy at things he observed: “these old, narrow, rather somber streets,” “a canal lined with elm trees,” “a stormy sky with big clouds reflecting in puddles on the ground,” “gnarled undergrowth and the trees with their strange shapes.”

He didn’t realize it, but Vincent van Gogh, though not yet an artist, was already painting, with words. For me, today, a heavy cloud reflected in a canal or a set of twisted tree trunks will summon, if not the artist himself, a manic flash akin to his.

Another vanished van Gogh, meanwhile, retains a spectral presence over the Linnaeusstraat, a broad avenue that runs along the Oosterpark. Vincent wrote the above observations to his brother, Theo, his closest confidante. A descendant of Theo’s, also Theo van Gogh, was a famous, and in many ways infamous, Amsterdam filmmaker and societal gadfly of recent memory. He was murdered here, on the street in front of his house, in 2004, in reaction to an anti-Islamic film he made. The event shocked the city and touched off waves of angst in Europe over immigration, which have yet to settle.

Of all the ghosts of Amsterdam, though, two stand far above the rest. I encounter one or the other almost daily. Somehow, their lives were lived in this city with such an intensity that they seem to have become part of it.

In the heart of Amsterdam a little iron drawbridge crosses the Kloveniersburgwal canal. Standing in the middle of it gives a panorama of views: up and down the canal, through a tiny cafe-cluttered street, down yet another street, through an ancient gateway into a courtyard, and to a place where the waters that flow through and around the city execute a complicated branching maneuver. As Gary Schwartz, an American-born Rembrandt scholar, once pointed out to me, from this spot you take in the Amsterdam that the greatest-ever Dutch master experienced.

Rembrandt van Rijn was born in Leiden, 30 miles away, but came to Amsterdam in his 20s, drawn by the city’s rapid rise and the many upwardly mobile merchants who would be likely customers. And once he arrived, he seems not only never to have left, but by and large to have restricted himself to this little zone. Virtually everything important Rembrandt did he did within a few minutes’ walk of this bridge.

Rembrandt figures so thoroughly in Amsterdam, I think, because he is intimately associated with the city’s greatest achievement. Amsterdam in his era pioneered many of the concepts embedded in the term “liberal,” which I mean not in the sex-and-drugs permissive sense (though that would come too) but, more deeply and broadly, as a philosophy based on the individual and individual freedom: the essence of what makes us modern.

Amsterdam led the rest of Europe away from the dogma that all authority came from monarch and church; rather, this new philosophy held, truth was based on reason — in the words of the Frenchman René Descartes, who also lived in Amsterdam — on “the mind and its good sense.” Central to this was a new awareness of oneself as an individual distinct from the group. And an outgrowth of this awareness was a sudden fascination with the human face — with portraits.

Rembrandt fed the portrait craze. We remember him for his dizzying output and his dexterity with so many styles of painting.

But his fame among his contemporaries came from his way with faces: his ability not just to paint what people looked like on the outside, but also to give a sense, which was shockingly and exhilaratingly new at the time, of the person within. In one two-year period, he churned out 42 portraits, many of people who lived in the houses in this neighborhood.

Rembrandt was a man on the rise, and he felt it appropriate that he live in this same area. He married Saskia van Uylenburgh, the cousin of his art dealer, and the two moved into a rental house just around the corner from the little iron bridge. The site of their house is now a big, modern airy cafe called De Jaren, where I spent a good portion of time writing my history of the city, and it was impossible, while doing such work in this spot, not to imagine the ambitious, arrogant artist barreling in and out of the place.

From his house it was a moment’s walk around the corner and over the bridge to a building on the left side of the street that housed, of all things, the board responsible for maintaining quality control on textiles that the city shipped out. Not a very exciting occupation, but even these men wanted their likenesses captured, and Rembrandt managed to give these seemingly quashingly bland officials an air of brooding mystery. “The Staalmeesters” (“staal” being Dutch for “sample”), while considered a masterpiece, eventually achieved a second kind of immortality when it was adopted as the logo for Dutch Masters cigars.

Just behind the bridge, meanwhile, a corner building (now a hotel) was the headquarters of one of the civic guard companies that were given the task of patrolling the city streets. They too were mad for images of themselves; they commissioned Rembrandt to paint their group portrait, and, love it or hate it, the result, “The Night Watch,” is considered one of the world’s great art treasures.

The ghosts of Rembrandt’s friends populate this neighborhood as well, and they too have associations with the city’s liberal heritage. The focus on the individual and the secular put Amsterdam at the cutting edge of science.

The square called the Nieuwmarkt, a short distance away from the bridge, is dominated by a squat medieval building called de Waag, or Weigh House, which has had many functions through the centuries.

Today its ground floor accommodates a restaurant; in the 17th century its upper chamber was the city’s anatomical theater. Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, the city’s chief physician and one of its most revered residents, performed public dissections here, and in the winter of 1631-2 (dissections took place in winter because the cold kept the stench down), the young Rembrandt tramped up here to make studies for what would be his first great painting. “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp,” in highlighting science, the human body and the distinctive personality of the physician, is a kind of trifecta of Dutch liberalism.

As Rembrandt reached the height of his fame, he bought a house a few streets away (the building is now the Rembrandt House Museum) that cost more than he could afford. That, plus the arrogance that eventually caused his patrons to flee, set off his slide into eventual bankruptcy.

In this house his wife died in childbirth. Here, too, he began a tempestuous affair with Geertje Dircx, the nurse he hired to care for the child. He tried to end the affair, but Geertje refused to be cast aside. He solved the problem by using his influence to have her committed to a workhouse.

For all the world-historic insight into humanity that his portraits show, he revealed himself, at the sad end of his life, to be adept at quite inhuman behavior.

Two years ago, my daughter and I took a walk together across Amsterdam, following in the footsteps of the historical figure who has become, so to speak, the city’s most famous export. Eva was 14 at the time, the same age as Anne Frank when she set out on her much more somber walk.

Probably every visitor to the city knows the Anne Frank House, where the girl and her family, along with a few other people, hid from the Nazis, and where Anne wrote her diary. That building, on the Prinsengracht, one of the grand central canals, was not the family’s normal residence but her father’s place of business.

They lived in the Rivierenbuurt, then a newly built area to the south of the central canal zone. In her diary Anne describes the day she, her father and her mother left their apartment for good, and walked to her father’s company, where a secret space had been built to house them. (Her sister, Margot, went separately, by bicycle.) Anne didn’t give the exact route they took, so Eva and I made a guess.

We started at Merwedeplein, the little plein, or square, that the Franks’ apartment looked out on. The apartment is today owned by the city, which honors the memory of its former inhabitants by making it available to foreign writers who have fled persecution.

We sat on a bench in the square and (at my urging) Eva read aloud the passage about the family’s departure: how they wore layers of clothing because carrying suitcases would tip off the Nazis that they were going into hiding. Then we set off. The neighborhood, which used to be the heart of Jewish Amsterdam, is a peaceful one. The buildings, dating from the period just before the Franks moved in, are surprisingly modern-looking.

Crossing a canal, we entered De Pijp, and things livened up. De Pijp is a ragged, busy neighborhood of falafel stands, artists’ lofts, yoga studios, Surinamese restaurants and coffee shops with reggae and pot smoke coming out their windows. It was a warm spring day and the sun gave the city an uncharacteristically drowsy feel.

The city the Franks walked through had been surprisingly calm for a time after the Nazi invasion. But then came the gray-and-green military vehicles of the occupiers. The razzias, roundups of Jews, began. The Franks were on foot that morning because Jews had been barred from public transportation (and from parks, libraries and restaurants). The great gift of the age of Rembrandt — the ennobling of the individual human being — was about to be ruthlessly stripped away.

Worse still, Amsterdammers themselves assisted in this violent betrayal of their liberal tradition. The city’s efficient administrators made it easier for Nazis to identify and remove Jews. As a result, a much greater percentage of Jews were murdered during the war than those of any other country. Amsterdam before the Holocaust had 80,000 Jews; today there are about 15,000.

Anne and her parents made it safely to the placid district of the central canals, the main tourist zone today, which had been built in the city’s Golden Age heyday. They slipped into the building where Otto Frank, Anne’s father, worked, and remained there until, two years later, they were caught and shipped off to concentration camps.

Eva and I walked past the Anne Frank House (which we’d visited several times before), and found a canalside cafe. Of course, our walk had been in part a typical parental ploy to instill something meaningful in a child. I asked Eva what she thought about it. She answered by saying, “Have you read Oliver Sacks? He’s amazing.”

I instantly recognized the non sequitur as a classic teenage gambit to thwart parental pedagogy, but it still worked. I was disoriented: surely it hadn’t been that long ago that she was enthralled by “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” Since when had she grown up to become a reader of neuroscientific case studies? Who was this person?

Then I recalled something that Otto Frank had written. He was the only member of the family to survive the war. He’d been stunned when he read the diary that his teenage daughter had left behind, and said it made him feel that he had never really known her.

What surprised him, was, I think, the very thing that made the diary an international sensation. It vividly displays both what Amsterdam’s history has always been about and what the Nazi occupation so vibrantly threatened: the mysterious complexity that is the individual human being.

This girl who would soon have the life crushed out of her represents not just the others who died without leaving words behind, but all of us. She showed us what human individuality is. And she did it, surprisingly enough, in the same way Rembrandt did: by painting a portrait.

As her father was shocked, and embarrassed, to discover, her diary reveals a full, deep, complicated person, who insists on continuing with her adolescent’s journey of self-discovery even as the swastikas paraded by outside: “It’s funny, but I can sometimes see myself as others see me. I take a leisurely look at the person called ‘Anne Frank’ and browse through the pages of her life as though she were a stranger.”

If ghosts who represent stages in the rise of individual freedom still haunt the streets of Amsterdam, making the city itself far greater than the sum of its museums and tourist sites, for me the spirit of this girl stands out above all the others because, in addition, she showed how fragile that freedom is.

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What to see and do in Amsterdam this autumn, including suggestions from our expert on where to stay.
Amsterdam attractions: what to see and do in autumn

Autumn in Amsterdam is for bracing walks along the canals Photo: AP

9:53AM BST 25 Sep 2013 

Why go?

Amsterdam somehow manages to have it all. It has the buzz of a metropolis, with few big-city drawbacks. It’s small enough to walk or cycle almost anywhere you want, yet is rarely dull. Dinky gabled buildings, pretty bridges and quiet canals give it village-like charm, yet you’ll also find top-ranking art museums and one of the best orchestras in the world. Most of all, Amsterdam combines its glittering past with a wry, rough, rebellious contemporary edginess.

Any season in Amsterdam has its allure, and autumn for bracing walks along the canals.

On the downside, expect rain or Tupperware-grey skies any time of year – but then there’s more than enough on the museum front to keep you entertained indoors, and at the slightest hint of good weather the chairs and tables go out at pavement cafés.

Autumn foliage

Trees line Amsterdam’s famous canals, meaning autumn is a great time for strolling around the city, and soaking up the colours. Wander the main 17th-century canals – Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht – but check out the picture-postcard Brouwersgracht, and the patch around Reguliersgracht, too.

Vondelpark, to the southwest of the city centre, is another decent bet for leaf-peeping. Other green spaces include Beatrixpark, Sarphatipark, and Oosterpark.

New exhibitions

Hermitage Amsterdam
Gaugin, Bonnard, Denis: A Russian Taste for French Art (until February 2014)

Set in a former almshouse for the aged, built in the 1680s, Hermitage Amsterdam shows off treasures on loan from the Hermitage palace in St Petersburg, in different themed exhibitions.

Its current exhibition highlights the works of three French artists from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Documenting the Netherlands: Our Daily Bread (until January 7, 2014)

The Dutch national treasure-house of art has at last re-opened after a decade-long renovation. Golden Age masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals and so many more are on show alongside centuries’ worth of fine furniture, Delftware, costume and jewellery. There’s a superb Asian collection, and new aquisitions which bring the display up to the present day.

The new exhibition features images from photographer Henk Wildschut that aim to depict the reality behind the production of fruit, vegetables, meat, milk, fish and eggs in the Netherlands.

Expert hotel pick
Hotel Bellington is a modest option in Amsterdam’s flashiest quarter.

Van Gogh Museum
Van Gogh at Work (until January 12, 2014)

More of the tortured artist’s paintings and drawings are collected here than anywhere in the world, and the temporary exhibitions of associated works are usually inspired and engrossing.

The current exhibition is a revealing look at the formative ten years that shaped his craft, showcasing over 200 pieces including paintings, works on paper, letters, original sketchbooks and his only surviving palette.

The Van Gogh Museum

Other attractions

Anne Frank House
The attic rooms where the Frank family hid out during the Second World War, reached through a door behind a hinged bookcase, are bare of furniture yet almost unbearably poignant, with magazine pictures pasted on the walls by Anne still in situ.

Expert hotel pick
Hotel Van Onna is a simple, well-run and clean hotel situated on a pretty canal. What more does one need?

Museum Van Loon
A peek indoors at the home of an Amsterdam patrician family. The 17th-century canalside mansion, one of the grandest in town, has been magnificently restored, to the last tinkling chandelier and lick of gilding.

Autumn events

Amsterdam Dance Event
October 16-20
The electronic music extravaganza is dubbed as the biggest music festival and conference in the world, featuring 2,000 artists and 450 events across 100 venues in the

Bokbier Festival
October 25-27
This annual beer festival takes place in the historic Beurs van Berlage building in the heart of the city, where visitors can sample over 50 varieties of bock beer accompanied by music from a live band.

Expert hotel pick
The Exchange Hotel is an affotable option on a hectic street between Centraal Station and the Dam, a heartbeat from the red-light district.

London Calling
November 1-2
This annaul music showcase features new bands from Britain and the US. Florence and the Machine, Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand are among the artists who made their Dutch debut at the Paradisco stage where it all takes place.

Museum Night
November 2
Fifty museums across the city are open late into the night, presenting a variety of art, music, fashion and film activities and events, alongside their regular exhibitions.

The Rijksmuseum

Expert hotel pick
The Seven One Seven is a sumptuous canal-house hotel with the ambience of an (admittedly very grand) private home.

International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA)
November 20-December 1
Filmmakers from around the globe descend on Amsterdam for the 250 or so screenings that make up the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, with energetic public debates and discussions on the go, too.

Additional research by Soo Kim

Click here to read the original article.

Tim's Vermeer

SEPTEMBER 2, 2013 | 10:14AM PT

Penn and Teller’s uncanny crowdpleaser begs the question, is it still a masterpiece if an amateur could do it?

Senior Film Critic@AskDebruge

So entertaining that audiences hardly even realize how incendiary it is, “Tim’s Vermeer” stirs up a flurry of scandal in the hallowed realm of art history. Obsessive inventor Tim Jenison has a hunch that the only explanation for the photorealistic quality evident in the work of 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer is that he “cheated,” using lenses or some other technological apparatus to achieve such remarkable detail. Jenison devises a five-year science experiment to test his theory, emerging with an uncanny crowdpleaser — the secret weapon in Sony Pictures Classics’ fall arsenal — that plays like the ultimate episode of “MythBusters.”


Generally speaking, Americans like their art easy to understand and difficult to make. Walk up to an all-white canvas or a minimalist watercolor, and the average spectator thinks, “How can this be art? Even I could paint that!” The tighter the technique, the more people seem to admire the craft, which is one reason Vermeer is held in such high esteem, having left behind nearly three dozen paintings that astound in their accuracy, despite having been rendered a century and a half before the daguerreotype (but not before the camera obscura).

So what if someone told you that anybody could paint as well as Vermeer? Is it still a masterpiece if an amateur could do it? Jenison has millions of ideas and just as many dollars, which affords him the luxury of indulging his pet theories. Here, for the benefit of magician friends Penn and Teller (the latter serves as director, while Penn Jillette supplies a fair amount of on-camera context), Jenison resolves to prove that one needn’t possess any God-given artistic talent to achieve what Vermeer did, if only he could pin down the combination of lenses, mirrors and other 17th-century tools the artist used to commit the scenes he composed in his studio to canvas.

As “The Da Vinci Code” proved a few years back, people love to uncover the secrets locked away in the masterworks of art history, and though “Tim’s Vermeer” does nothing to interpret Vermeer’s work, it sheds new light on the way he might have gone about it. Technically, the notion that Vermeer might have used a camera obscura as an optical aid has been around for years, backed up by mathematical calculations in Philip Steadman’s book “Vermeer’s Camera.” Jenison proposes an even simpler solution involving a simple hand mirror, enlisting both Steadman and “Secret Knowledge” author — and artist — David Hockney to test his theories as he goes.

But Teller’s inventor/subject goes one step further than the scholars did, attempting to reproduce Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson” himself — and this is where the film crosses over into a fascinating tale of obsession, as Jenison uses his primary expertise (as founder of NewTek, he revolutionized the fields of computer graphics and digital video) to re-create the artist’s studio in a San Antonio warehouse. Using rendering tools to calculate the exact dimensions of every object seen in the original painting, from stained-glass windows to the models’ costumes, Jenison then constructs everything by hand and positions it just right in the room — a 213-day job, short by comparison with the actual task of painting.

One can’t help but laugh as Jillette supplies a running commentary on his friend’s lunatic scheme, for which (if Penn is to be believed) he even learned to read Dutch. Getting a perfectly calculated musical assist from master orchestrator Conrad Pope, whose score conveys the sheer intensity of Jenison’s focus, Teller observes the dedicated inventor grinding his own lenses, mixing period-appropriate oil paints and sitting down for months on end to create what, for all intents and purposes, amounts to a hand-painted color photograph of the scene.

“Tim’s Vermeer” is no mere art doc, however, as it places more attention on Jenison’s experiment than the process he’s attempting to uncover or the painter who inspired this bizarre journey. And though Jenison’s findings raise terrific questions about the nature of art (is Vermeer’s achievement in any way diminished if he used mirrors?), the extent of his genius (surely composition accounts for a great deal, no?) and the interpretation of his paintings (how to account for his presumed self-portraits?), Teller leaves such issues for someone else to consider. The result is just about the most fun you can have while learning, partly because it strips away any tangents beyond the task at hand, offering a lean, 80-minute account of how this crazy guy erected his own Everest and then proceeded to climb it.

Telluride Film Review: ‘Tim’s Vermeer’

Reviewed at Telluride Film Festival, Aug. 30, 2013. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — TIFF Docs; New York Film Festival.) Running time: 80 MIN.


(Documentary) A Sony Pictures Classics release presented in association with High Delft Pictures of a Penn & Teller production. Produced by Penn Jillette, Farley Ziegler. Executive producers, Peter Adam Golden, Glenn S. Alai, Tim Jenison, Teller.


Directed by Teller. Camera (color, HD/video), Shane F. Kelly; editor, Patrick Sheffield; music, Conrad Pope; re-recording mixer, Larry Blake; associate producer, Natalie Jenison.


Tim Jenison, Penn Jillette, Martin Mull, Philip Steadman, David Hockney, Colin Blakemore. (English, Dutch dialogue)

Original article found here.


AUGUST 24, 2013


Museum of Fine Arts, 617-267-9300;; Closing date: Feb. 17

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn’s “Six’s Bridge.”

Earthy and playful, occasionally ironic, sometimes droll, Rembrandt Harmensz Van Rijn translated his passion through his ink, in subtle depictions of light and shadow, in the telling details of facial expressions and postures, in fantastic and dramatic variations from one version, or state, of a work-in-progress to the next.

“Rembrandt the Etcher” echoes the MFA’s impressive 2003 exhibition, “Rembrandt’s Journey: Painter — Draughtsman — Etcher,” which featured more than 200 works, many borrowed from private and public collections here and in Europe, with the prints front and center. The museum’s curator of prints and drawings, Clifford Ackley, organized both shows. This one is more constrained, with only 45 works, mostly from the museum’s meaty collection. They’re all prints, which might be easy to pass by if there were a painting down the wall. But this artist clearly loved printmaking; his hand and technique are so lively, his attention so soulful, that prints alone make for a magnetic show.

Etching gained ground as a printmaking technique in the 16th century. Then Rembrandt cracked it wide open. Using a copper etching plate as easily as he used a sketchbook, he worked actively in the medium from 1630 to 1661. His prints display startling variety of slashes and crosshatches, with lines densely gathered into thick storm clouds of ink, or applied in taut, efficient descriptions.

He did the last in the landscape “Six’s Bridge,” one of the sparer prints in the show. The story goes that Jan Six, a mayor of Amsterdam, dared Rembrandt to complete a scene on an etching plate in the time it took for a servant to run home and return with a pot of mustard. The tale is likely apocryphal — later research proved that the piece doesn’t depict Six’s land at all, but that of another Amsterdam official — but it speaks to the swift surety of Rembrandt’s lines. There’s a whole world conveyed in the evocative shorthand of the trees’ foliage, the quick outlines of a sailboat, and the sketched buildings on the horizon, all revolving around two tiny fellows communing at the bridge’s rail.

Artists of that era often used prints to prop up their careers, selling print versions of their paintings. Rembrandt, who struggled with bankruptcy, did what he could to boost his career, but it wasn’t his habit to copy his paintings. That would have been a bore for this voracious experimenter. His prints are hardly static afterthoughts. In each, he puzzles and pushes to create a dynamic composition and tell a provocative story.

There’s more than biblical parable to read into “Adam and Eve,” a knowing wink at the politics of relationship. Rembrandt imbues the figures with the Dutch naturalism for which he was known. They’re fleshy, even dowdy, unlike the idealized mythic types depicted in Italian art at the time. We can relate to them.

Eve stands beneath the tree of knowledge holding a sunlit apple in both hands, certain and unmovable. Adam is less solid in his stance, half propped on a rock, his face a map of consternation. He strokes the apple with one hand and points skyward with the other. Poor guy. You know he’s never going to win this one.

Rembrandt’s eloquent faces might be his greatest achievement. Not every portrait in this exhibition is exquisitely nuanced, but in the crisply detailed, unyielding “Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill,” the artist in his 30s looks directly at us, eyes slightly narrowed, appraising and a little weary. He wears a capacious chapeau and cape, the garb of a prince, like clothing he had seen in portraits by Raphael and Titian. The costume addresses a question of the period: Are artists craftsmen or gentlemen? With his penetrating gaze, Rembrandt dares us to judge him.

The artist frequently returned to his wife, Saskia, in his work. She appears to have sat for his etching “The Great Jewish Bride.” An early state of that print is on view, unfinished at the bottom; we see only the bride’s round face and the fan of hair draping her shoulders suggesting an infinite expanse below. In the final version, she wears a gown and grips a scroll, but there’s something inviting about this half-completed one, great with possibility.

Printmaking gave Rembrandt the opportunity to see each work evolve; scrutinizing one state of a print could catalyze dramatic changes. Among the several biblical narratives in the show, Ackley has included two states of the shattering “Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves (‘The Three Crosses’).” In the earlier one, Jesus appears in the center of the dying trio; a funnel of light showers from overhead, as soldiers and witnesses linger below. This is a drypoint print, made with a burr, which renders a softer, more romantic line. Rembrandt left a veil of ink on the plate before he printed this one, suggesting twilight.

For the later print, the artist slashed the scene with black lines, pelting down and ricocheting across. The other crucified figures and many of those on the ground vanish in the darkness. Christ remains illuminated, as if at the eye of a violent storm. It’s a shocking rendering, which with its bold, brittle lines foreshadows 20th-century German Expressionism. Visionary, for an artist of Rembrandt’s time.

Even the prints that feel most like sketches radiate an effusive energy. “Saint Jerome beside a Pollard Willow” pictures the elderly scholar at a makeshift desk attached to an old, broken-down tree. Rembrandt minutely details the leaning tree with rough bark and jagged edges; a small bird perches on one side, and a big cat lurks below. The only remaining leafy boughs reach to shade the man, who, like the tree, has some life in him yet.

For all the realism of the willow, the surroundings are bare cartoons. Works like these feel like they’re still coming to be. Rembrandt’s virtuoso technique and his compassion for his subjects are two parts of what made him great. This experimenting, generative quality is the third. For him, making art wasn’t merely a record of life. It was the best way to live it.

Original article found here.

Research experts reject claim in biography that artist was murdered by 16-year-old schoolboy

The mystery surrounding Vincent van Gogh’s death has taken another twist after two experts disputed a recent biography that suggested he did not commit suicide but instead was killed by an acquaintance.

The Dutch painter was widely believed to have shot himself at the age of 37, even confessing it on his deathbed. Yet Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith made the shock claim that he had been shot, possibly accidentally, by a 16-year-old schoolboy.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning authors made the claim in Van Gogh: The Life, a 960-page biography released in October 2011. At the time of publication, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam said the theory was “dramatic” and “intriguing” but added that “plenty of questions remained unanswered.”

Two research experts from the museum were set on the trail of exploring the claims, however, and have no published their findings that the shocking theory of manslaughter, or even murder, simply does not add up.

In an article in the Burlington Magazine, Louis van Tilborgh and Teio Meendendorp said the train of events suggesting suicide “is eminently defensible, both psychologically and historically”.

They pointed to the nature of the bullet wound, relations with his brother Theo, as well as a letter found in his pocket – which the biography failed to cover – as helping prove his suicide. They also added that it was plausible Van Gogh wanted to commit suicide, which the biographers dispute.

They wrote: “Seen from the perspective that is neglected in this biography, namely Van Gogh’s own view of his life, suicide is so much more plausible than the chance squabble with fatal consequences.”

Van Gogh died in 1890 in Auvers-sur-Oise where he was painting the wheat fields. He sustained a gunshot injury to his abdomen while out in those fields before dying in an inn two days later. On his death bed he revealed he had shot himself.

Van Gogh The Life

Van Gogh The Life

The biography was compiled after 10 years of study by its authors and aired a startling theory. Mr Naifeh said: “The accepted understanding of what happened in Auvers among the people who knew him was that he was killed accidentally by a couple of boys and he decided to protect them by accepting the blame.” American academic John Rewald had talked of hearing local rumours about such a theory in the 1930s.

The biographers pointed to Gaston and Rene Secretan, students at a Paris lycee, as responsible. Renee was interviewed in 1957 about the artist and revealed that he owned a pistol that Van Gogh may have taken. The authors of the recent article said the interview, which the biography relied on heavily, did not substantiate the claims “in the slightest”.

The experts from the Van Gogh Museum said: “Truly nothing substantiates their argument for the train of events they construe, apart from a twentieth-century rumour arising from an authentic story of a trigger-happy brat in 1890, who merely claimed that Van Gogh probably stole the gun from him. And we do not doubt that for a moment.”

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Visitors can once again see Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” in all its glory following the reopening of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Queen Beatrix has reopened her country’s national museum after a 10-year renovation.

Thousands cheered outside the Rijksmuseum on Saturday as Queen Beatrix officially declared the Netherland’s most-famous museum to be reopened. The move comes after a decade-long, 375 million euro ($480 million) renovation.

Fireworks marked the occasion, which saw the 75-year-old Queen Beatrix in one of her final official appearances before abdicating the throne to her son Willem-Alexander at the end of the month. The queen turned a golden key, opening the building to the cheering crowds.

Masters on display

The Rijksmuseum is home to works by Dutch masters Jan Steen, Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt van Rijn, among many others.

Rijksmuseum opens its doors after ten years

The Spanish architectural firm Cruz y Ortiz aimed to bring light into the dark, castle-like museum, as well as modern displays. By all accounts, they succeeded, as the renovation and new layout have been getting rave reviews in the media in recent weeks.

Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch,” widely viewed as the artist’s greatest work, is the only of the museum’s 8,000 works to be returned to its original display position. The canvas depicts an Amsterdam civic guard setting off on a march. It is approached along a Gallery of Honor, which also features works such as Vermeer’s “Woman Reading a Letter” and “The Merry Drinker” by Frans Hals.

Other of the museum’s prize possessions have been displayed in new sites under the new layout, with related paintings, furniture, silver and ceramics arranged in close proximity to each other.

A long wait

The renovation work took longer than expected and ended up costing more than originally estimated, with designers having to incorporate an existing bike path into their design. They also had to ensure that spaces below sea level in the museum would not flood.

The Rijksmuseum was originally built in 1885 and hosted 200,000 visitors annually. Prior to the renovation, one million visitors walked the museum’s halls each year. Following the reopening, museum administrators hope to double that to two million.

As many as 30,000 visitors were expected on Saturday alone, with the museum offering free entrance all day to mark the occasion.

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AMSTERDAM — Rembrandt’s iconic masterpiece the “Night Watch” has been painstakingly returned to the main building of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum before its re-opening next month after a decade of renovations.

Removing the priceless painting from a temporary wing and moving it to the main building Wednesday was an operation of almost military precision.

Dozens of police stood guard as it was slid into a climate-controlled crate and cranes were used to lift it out of one gallery and into another.

The 1642 oil painting of one of Amsterdam’s citizen militias, officially titled “The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch,” measures 3.79 meters by 4.53 meters (12.43 x 14.86 feet) and weighs 337 kilograms (743 pounds).

Read the original article and view a slideshow here.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam/Vincent Van Gogh Foundation

A detail from “The Yellow House (The Street),” from 1888. Van Gogh briefly shared the home in Arles, France, with Paul Gauguin.

By NINA SIEGAL Published: March 8, 2013

AMSTERDAM — Stars swirling in a deep blue night, aureate sunflowers, sun-choked fields of wheat — Vincent van Gogh loved to capture light and all of its transforming properties. Yet light is also the enemy of more than half the artist’s works, those that can fade, turn yellow or become brittle if exposed to it for too long.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam/Vincent Van Gogh Foundation

Van Gogh’s “Landscape with Houses,” created in Auvers-sur-Oise in 1890, shortly before the artist’s death, is among the 18 paper works to be shown at The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht.

While van Gogh produced more than 800 works on canvas throughout his 10-year career, he made at least as many works on paper, in pen and ink, pencil, diluted oil paint and watercolor, said Marije Vellekoop, head of collections, research and presentations at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Because of their sensitivity and fragility, though, this part of van Gogh’s oeuvre rarely sees the light of day.

“The general rule in the paper world is that you show them once every three to five years and then only for three to four months,” Mrs. Vellekoop said. “Then they go in the box and they stay there for several years.”

Eighteen van Gogh works on paper will come out of their boxes this month for the exhibition “Van Gogh’s Drawings” at The European Fine Art Fair, known as Tefaf, in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Among them is one of only two known drawn self-portraits, an exterior view of the famous “Yellow House” in the French city of Arles and a landscape that the artist completed in Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris, a few months before he committed suicide there.

Tefaf, which takes place from March 15 to March 24, is largely devoted to selling museum-quality art to private collectors and public institutions. But for the past few years, the fair has also put on display a so-called director’s choice of works from a museum.

“No dealer in the world would be able to pull together a collection of van Gogh drawings like this,” said Ben Janssens, the chairman of Tefaf, who arranged the loan with Axel Rüger, director of the Van Gogh Museum. “They’re just not on the market, so it’s simply not possible.”

One of the highlights is a colorful work, “The Yellow House (the Street),” painted in Arles in 1888, depicting the place van Gogh first used as a studio before making it his home in September that year. It is the house that contains the famous bedroom with blue walls and sleigh bed that appear in “The Bedroom.” The painter Paul Gauguin also stayed there for a while, until an argument between the two artists in late 1888, during which van Gogh cut off part of his left ear.

The Van Gogh Museum owns about half of the 1,000 or so extant works on paper by the Dutch post-impressionist. It agreed to lend the works to Tefaf, in part to keep its collection in the public eye while the museum in Amsterdam undergoes renovations. Mrs. Vellekoop said she also wanted to use the opportunity to help cultivate a more rounded view of van Gogh as an artist who worked in more than one medium.

“Right now, when you leave our museum, you think of van Gogh as a painter,” she said, “but that’s not a complete picture.” When the museum reopens at the beginning of May, Mrs. Vellekoop said, curators will explore ways to showcase more of the artist’s drawings and letters in the renovated space.

Unlike some artists, van Gogh did not use pen and ink or watercolors only to make preliminary sketches for larger oil paintings. “With van Gogh, a large part of the finished oeuvre is drawings,” Mrs. Vellekoop said. “He shifts from paintings to drawings, for example, when he doesn’t have enough money and he’s out of painting materials, when he’s in the south of France and the mistral wind is blowing and it’s difficult to paint, so taking his notebook and doing drawings is easier.”

He also changed medium depending on his health. “When he had periods when his health was not too good, before his breakdown, he would draw sometimes because going outside with all your painting materials is much heavier and harder work than just going outside with a pad or a sketchbook,” she said.

One of the highlights, “Landscape with Houses,” is a work in blue on white paper. Done with pencil, brush, oil paint and watercolor, it depicts houses in the French countryside, with echoing waves of clouds and hills. The thatched roofs of the houses may have reminded van Gogh of the roofs of his childhood in the Netherlands, for which he felt a deepening nostalgia in his final months, Mrs. Vellekoop said. The work was one of the last ambitious drawings the artist finished; it was made in May 1890 in Auvers-sur-Oise, just two months before he died.

The works are now more than 100 years old, and some are already showing the effects of time — the paper a little jaundiced, the colors sometimes a bit dimmed. This time around, they will be on display for only the ten days of the Tefaf fair, after which they will return to their boxes for a few more years.

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