Painting like a pro – kind of

Staying a weekend with friends, after joining a “Teekentour” at the  Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, the next challenge was a portrait painting workshop. This workshop was offered at another Dutch museum.

The Haags Historisch Museum, The Hague’s Historical Museum, can be found near the more famous Mauritshuis. The museum is located in the former 17th century Sebastian Guild Hall, which once belonged to one of the local civil guards groups.

As in Amsterdam, the guards here loved having their portraits painted. Preferably as action men, grouped around a table with or without splendid dinner. Or shown taking important decisions, like having their modern Sebastian Guild Hall built.

Visitors can now admire the militia paintings – called Schuttersstukken in Dutch – in one of the museum’s rooms. At least two of these paintings were created by local artist Jan van Ravesteyn. Mr van Ravesteyn ensured he painted himself in. He was not just a well-paid, well-connected, successful artist, but also a Guild member.

Mr van Ravesteyn not only painted group portraits. He also painted fellow citizens, Prince Maurice and other members of the Nassau family, dignitaries, court officials and wealthy burghers. A selection of his portraits can be admired in an exhibition at the museum. “Faces of the Dutch Golden Age” can be visited till the 9th of April 2017.

Together with 11 other people, I filed into the museum’s café which is located in the former cellars. Here our teacher welcomed us and asked how experienced we all were. Fortunately, I was not the only one with no experience in painting portraits.

The group did include several painters specializing in landscapes or modern art and oil painting techniques. Our teacher Ms Wielders and her assistant were experienced museum educators and professional artists.

Before we started, Ms Wielders went into portrait painting: form of a head, distances of eyes and other important bits and pieces, lines, three-quarter, expressions, etc. We received a handy poster containing crucial info to take home. It was the first of many items included in this afternoon workshop.

After the short introduction, we were taken to the temporary exhibition full of impressive portraits by Jan van Ravesteyn. Here we received a short introduction to van Ravensteyn’s art, skills, techniques.

While our teacher explained, we were told to start sketching portraits we liked, using the drawing board, paper and pencil, handed out in the café. As at the Rijksmuseum, the group was sketching while visitors milled around. However, these visitors were extremely polite, did not peer over shoulders to see what we were up to, did not offer unwanted critical remarks.

huge-grotius-van-ravesteynWhile we were drawing, we received a short guided tour through the exhibition, finishing with a visit to the Schutterstukken in a nearby room. During the short tour, our teacher pointed out details, asked questions, gave advise. Of course, we stopped in front of the banner with a portrait of a young boy. This is van Ravensteyn’s portrait of Hugo Grotius, aged sixteen.

Half an hour of sketching later, we were taken downstairs again. At the back of the museum is a small building which is now used for workshops. It combines state-of-the-art teaching material like computer screens, with chandeliers and ornate fireplaces. Coffee, tea, cookies were waiting for us.

Tables covered in oil-cloth were also ready, as were materials for professional portrait painters. These included brushes, glasses of water, canvas, gouache, paper napkins – whatever we might need.

The information for this afternoon’s workshop had instructed us to wear suitable clothes (in case of paint or water spills), as well as taking along a photo or other example we wanted to paint. Plenty had brought along snaps of family members, though some tried their hands at newspaper photos (Dick Bruna and Miffy), and in my case a Rijksmuseum postcard of a Renaissance portrait bust.

2017219-hh-02Over two hours later, after trying out materials and techniques, getting used to the paint and mixing colours (my portrait got a bad case of jaundice), making mistakes and having the teachers try to save our great works of art …

While drinking cups of coffee, accidentally washing brushes in tea, eating loads of cookies – definitely no workshop for slimmers – and after much dedicated hard work … All portraits were put on display. Good points were discussed, tips from fellow artists mulled over, inspiration shared – before we all went home with our more or less mirror-image portraits in the kind of style much removed from professional Jan van Ravesteyn.

As the Rijksmuseum teacher in Amsterdam would sum up: “One doesn’t end up painting like van Ravesteyn in a three-hour-long workshop, while using gouache on canvas for the first time.” But it was loads of fun!

Haags Historisch Museum, the exhibition “Faces from the Dutch Golden Age” can be visited till the 9th of April. This museum is one of several in The Hague, which offer a combi-ticket to several local museums, including the Mauritshuis.

Ms Wielders museum education website shows examples of her workshops
Her art website contains samples of her modern paintings

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