I also had a chance to pop over to The Hague (because when are you ever going to go to a city with "The" in its name ... other than The Bronx?) and was appropriately dazzled by the Royal Picture Gallery. I went specifically for Vermeer's Girl with the Pearl Earring (1665), which is really quite arresting:
It's a small canvas, but astonishing for its luminous, intimate, pretty, innocent, doe eyed ... ness. Sorry for the torrent of adjectives, but I was really struck by it. I know it's a cliche to say this, but there's an otherworldly aura to the original painting. I'm going here to learn more about the painting right after I finish this post (updating may occur).
Again, I was reminded of how awesome it is touring Europe in January, as I had Rembrandt's Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp (1632) all to myself in an empty room. The composition is typically lively, with all subjects looking in different places at once. The light source appears to be the body, emanating a glowing white (but looking at the painting you can see that it's actually a shaft of light from a high window).
The light source reminds me of a scene from Hitchcock's Suspicion, in which a glowing white glass of milk seems to illuminate the space around it:
The backgrounds in "Girl" and "Anatomy Lesson" are relatively unimportant -- plain black -- which directs the viewer's focus and highlights the paintings' subjects. Here's a random observation on Vermeer and Rembrandt: their use of black backgrounds reminds me of Disney's Alice in Wonderland.
See how dark all these backgrounds are? The Disney Alice is one of my favorite animated versions of the story, and part of the reason I'm so fond of it is the strange sort of black field it seems to take place in front of. It lends an eerie effect to the whole thing that I find quite delightful. Apparently it turns out Alice was considered a quick cheapie, which may be why Walt didn't put any time or effort into the backgrounds -- little did he know that his luminous blonde heroine would emulate the effects of the masters (or did he? he was an evil genius after all).
Other personal favorites within the collection were Jan Breughel 1 and Peter Paul Rubens' collaboration Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man (1617), Rubens' Old Woman and Boy With Candles (1616-17), Gerrit Dou's Old Woman Reading Lectionary (1631) and Hendrich Avercamp's On The Ice (1610). We saw Avercamp in the Rijksmuseum, too -- like Jaques Tati, he's very playful and full of activity in the frame and uses deep focus:
Finally, I also really liked Judith Leyster's Man Offering Money to a Young Woman (1631):
Seeing Leyster's work made me want to learn more about her, as I don't know of many women painting at that time. It also made me aware of what women were doing in these paintings: reading, playing music, laughing, drinking, fondling dudes (or protecting their virtue), working lace, caring for children, pouring milk, sewing. I always thought the idea of women as naked passive objects in art was a bit overblown. These 17th century Dutchwomen had very busy lives, it seems. I wonder if it's just emblematic of the region, though -- I mean, the Netherlands was one of Europe's first Republics after all, and has always had that whole equality and tolerance thing going on. Of course, I'm sure they weren't allowed in the Draper's Guild but ... well, anyway, I'm going to look up Judith Leyster now and read more about her. I'm sure I'll be obsessed with the Northern Renaissance school for a long time.
Finally, I just want to add a little aside on the food, and then I promise I'll stop rambling about the Netherlands. Dutch food has a pretty bad reputation, and I'm sure their raw herring totally sucks, but nevertheless I managed to eat fairly well. For one, the grand Cafe Dudok in Rotterdam is very good, as is the Bagel Bakery, which serves Israeli cuisine as well as the eponymous bagels, and you can get decent Chinese-style fast food at Wok to Go. The Witte de Wittengstraat is a street packed full of galleries and tons of restaurants, which all seem to be pretty good, except for Bazaar, which I can tell you is totally overhyped.
At Bazaar, I put my name on the list for a table, waited for an hour, then asked when I'd be seated after seeing other, newer arrivals seated before me. They couldn't find my name on the list. I volunteered (pleasantly) to go somewhere else but they begged me to please sit, right away. The service was average, but the couscous was a shade below average, and way overpriced. My server disappeared after my meal and I totally could have walked out without paying, because, when I got up to use the restroom, he'd already cleared my table and put a "Reserved" sign up for the next customer. I went up to the maitre d' and paid him directly. This must be a mob joint or something, because I can't fathom how it stays in business. Other than Bazaar, the food in Holland is definitely Not That Bad, and hey, in Europe you can never go wrong with supermarket staples like bread, cheese, and fruit. And yes, the Gouda is very yummy.