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Flemish Painting

Jan Van Ecyk (?-1441)
The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin (66 x 62cm)
Tempora? on wood
Louvre Museum
Interestingly Chancellor Rolin - Duke of Burgundy- places himself directly in front of the Virgin without an angelic or saintly intermediary. Both figures occupy equal space and status in the picture. The middle ground is filled with a view perhaps of the earthly paradise which the Duke commands here on earth. Note the Romanesque arches, gothic columns and insecure perspective.

Dirk Bouts (c1420-1475)
The Virgin Seated with the Child (20 x 12cm)
Tempora? on wood
Louvre Museum
Note the "gothic" appearance of the Virgin and the wonderful painting in her gown. Compare to the more rounded human appearance in Italian pictures of the same period.

Sir Anthony Van Dyke (1599-1641)
Rachael de Ruvigny, Countess of Southampton 1640? (223 x 132cm)
Oil on canvas on board
National Gallery of Victoria: Melbourne
This is probably a posthumous portrait. The sitter has a skull at her feet and her hand rests on a globe showing that she has conquered a world of earthly fortune and also death. Note the brilliant handling of light falling on the gown and the billowing cape suggesting transport to another world. The portrait is life-size. 
Anthony Van Dyke spent much of his life in England as portrait painter of royalty-notably King Charles the First- and the aristocracy. He was knighted for his services by Charles. Van Dyke was a student of Rubens whom we will meet next week.

Rembrandt (1606-1669)
Portrait of a White Haired Man 1667 (109 x 93cm)
Oil on Canvas
National Gallery of Victoria: Melbourne
This is one of the last two portraits signed and dated by the artist. Typically for Rembrandt the work appears to give off light; in this picture from the face, hair and cuffs. The dark cloak and brown background serve to bring the figure forward in the triangular composition. The contrapposto movement and lower left shoulder suggest that the sitter is moving out of the picture plane towards us. Note the tonal style of painting where shape is suggested by tone changes rather than changing actual colour.
Rembrandt spent most of his life in Amsterdam where his fortunes fluctuated. In 1639 he acquired a large house with the assistance of his wife's wealth and became a noted collector however the death of his wife and a change in public taste away from the dark tonality of his work meant that the 1640s were a difficult time for him. During his lifetime he was known more universally for his etchings and drawings than for his now much-admired oils. 

Rembrandt (1606-1669)
Portrait of the Artist at His Easel 1660 (111x x90cm)
Oil on Canvas
Louvre Museum

Note the wonderful lighting and shadow which serve to highlight the artist's face with all its undulations. The only other parts of the picture to be lighted are the hands and easel which make up the rest of the picture's title.  This is a typical "minimalist" Rembrandt portrait.

Rembrandt and School of Rembrandt
Portrait of Rembrandt (77 x 62cm) Unsigned and undated
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria: Melbourne
This picture was originally purchased by the Melbourne gallery as a Rembrandt self portrait in 1933. Since then it has undergone at least two revisions of attribution including "In the Manner of Rembrandt", i.e. a copy by another hand, to its present-day status as shown above. We may be certain of two things if the present-day attribution is correct: Rembrandt would have done some of the picture himself and the picture would not have left the studio unless Rembrandt was happy with

Vermeer (1632-1675)
The Love Letter 1669-72 (44 x 39cm)
Oil on canvas
Vermeer is known to have painted about 35 pictures only (three and possibly four are in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC). His pictures are, as a result, priceless and, of course, very tightly held. He is said to be the most forged artist in the history of art. He painted with meticulous attention to detail even down to textures and fly-spots on walls and his pictures are masterpieces of perspective and composition. Domestic scenes comprise much of his work; usually with a subtext.
Here a lady holding a lute which she has just been playing is handed a letter by another woman who may be a servant. The action occurs under a picture of a ship at sea- both ship and sea identified with lover and love in the 17th century. Contempory viewers of this picture would be in no doubt that the lady had just received a letter from an absent, seafaring lover. The participants, domestic jumble of broom, slippers and laundry basket are framed by the curtain and doorway making the composition rivetingly tight. Strongly marked tiles lead us in. We have just come upon the couple as the letter is exchanged, the knowing glance of the servant contrasting with the slightly anxious face of her mistress.

Ruisdael 1628/29-1682
The Watermill 1660 (65 x 71cm)
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria: Melbourne
Ruisdael is possibly the best and most influential of the 17th century Dutch artists. He painted a wide variety of landscape subjects with equal facility and had completed over 700 works at his death.  He imbued his landscapes with emotion and hidden, almost spiritual meaning and his pictures are always rather more than just a pleasingly-composed landscapes or seascapes. A nephew followed in his uncle’s footsteps.
Here a damaged water wheel structure allows water to flow to waste at the left. The dark clouds and threatening vegetation add to the gloomy scene to tell us that this particular piece of man's encroachment on nature is in the process of returning to its natural state. Here it is nature's impact on man which is in the ascendancy. 

Hobbema 1638-1709
A Watermill 1666 (61 x 85cm)
Oil on wood panel
Hobbema was a student of Ruisdael and it is interesting to see the interpretation each man brought to the same scene. Here all is sweetness of co-existence of nature and man. The day is bright, water tumbles usefully over the water wheel as it should, and the vegetation is well under control. To reinforce the image of successful industry a man handles a barrel as a productively engaged workmate comes through the door of the mill.

Von Stoll 1828-1869
Flower piece
Oil on canvas on plywood. 1837 (95 x 74cm)
National Gallery of Victoria: Melbourne
More than 40 blooms reflect and subdue light in this riotous composition of colour and shape. Some of the flowers are from different seasons suggesting that the artist either preserved them or kept sketches. Flower pieces were a popular subject for both 17th and 18th century Dutch artists.


Vincent Van Gogh 1853-1890
Cypresses 1889 (93 x 74cm)
Oil on canvas
Van Gogh lived with chronic depressive illness and this picture was painted as he was beginning a voluntary, year-long stay in an asylum. He committed suicide the following year. He had, famously, already amputated his own ear. He is said to have never sold a picture in his lifetime and he often gave works to friends and creditors as payment for services, goods and kindnesses. Van Gogh was an intensely religious man and this doubly reinforces the depths he had reached when he took his own life.
Cypresses brims with the artist's ebullient attacking style of brushwork. Clouds and sun jostle in the sky and vegetation clambers over the slope towards us. The massive cypress rears up in the foreground, foreboding and menacing, perhaps as a sign of the disaster to soon come. This picture communicates feeling to us in the painting style as well as via the composition- it has some expressionist qualities.

Magritte 1898-1967
The Human Condition 1934 (98 x 80)
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art Washington DC
Magritte was a surrealist painter, i.e. a painter who painted the sub-conscious. Superb technique, haunting compositions and subtle colouration characterise his work. Here he taunts us with "a painting within a painting".
We look out of a window at a landscape. On an easel in front of the window is a painting of the landscape.  The painting shows the part of the landscape we might assume it is covering. The outside scene is real, but so is the painting. Is the scene in the painting real? It seems to be a part of the landscape outside and of course the painting is a real painting. The scene outside is real and the picture is a real representation of that reality. So the picture and the painting are ...well really the same thing, or are they? The enigmatic title may refer to our occasional inability to distinguish real from unreal or more importantly our unwillingness to distinguish the two.