Two painters, two paintings, same subject: at the Mauritshuis Museum

This autumn, the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague will open a major exhibition on Flemish Masters. The museum and its Flemish counterpart, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, organize this exhibition.

For those unable to visit: both museums offer a consolation. Two paintings, one owned by the Antwerp and one by the The Hague museum, treating the same subject but created by different painters, can be admired right now.

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The collection as time machine, at museum Boijmans

The title – collection as time machine – sounded interesting. This new exhibition at the Rotterdam Boijmans van Beuningen museum would challenge visitors. Its aim was to invite visitors to spend more time looking at art.

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Expected: temporarily at home in Holland

One of the many museums currently changing their temporary exhibition, is the Mauritshuis in The Hague. This summer, a modern art one could be visited in the museum’s small exhibition wing. The entrance to this wing as well as the seperate entrance to the main building with its permanent collection of masters from the Dutch Golden Age, is in the museum’s large entrance hall.

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The Hague’s Mauritshuis: “high and low – from our depot”

The Hague’s Mauritshuis remains a firm favourite. The house itself is small, yet manages to show you a wealth of Dutch masters including Vermeer’s “Girl with Pearl Earring”, a few Rembrandts, Fabritius’ “Goldfinch”. In its new wing, one fascinating temporary exhibition is replaced by the next one.

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Exhibition: “Selfies” at the Mauritshuis

No fan of people taking selfies (see “selfie, selfie”), I did admire twenty-seven such pictures, early October 2015. For the Mauritshuis’ has an exhibition on selfies. Not just any selfies: visitors can admire twenty-seven self-portraits by Dutch Golden Age painters.

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Rivals at Court

From the Mauritshuis museum entrance, you walk round the left corner and follow the street along the Hofvijver. At the end of it, on the right corner, is another museum: the “Haags Historisch Museum”. Its current temporary exhibition focusses on two women.

These two power-brokers spent most of their lives in 17th century The Hague. One was the English Stuart Princess Elizabeth. She was the daughter of James I of England and Anne of Denmark. She was the sister of Charles I. She was married off to a German prince. Unlike many arranged marriages, this was a happy one.

This couple might have led a peaceful life together in their Heidelberg castle. Unfortunately, they were offered the Bohemian crown and accepted it. They moved to Prague, but lost a battle and they had to flee. In fact, they were in such a hurry they nearly left their youngest son, Prince Rupert, behind.

The couple also lost their German territory. As they were related to the house of Orange, they fled to the Dutch Republic. Prince Maurits, son of William the Silent, offered them lodgings in The Hague. The refugees became part of his The Hague court. Mockingly, Europe called them the Winter King and Queen.

Among the Winter Queen’s ladies-in-waiting was a beautiful young but poor German aristocrat. Prince Maurits’ younger half-brother was a ladies’ man. It started as an affair, but under pressure, Frederick Henry married Amalia von Solms. Their marriage contract, signed by Elizabeth among others, can be seen at this exhibition. Former royal employer and “upstart” ex-lady-in-waiting became rivals, trying to outdo each other in everything.

The exhibition shows how this rivalry went on for decades. There are portraits in which each strikes the same pose, is dressed in similar clothes, wears similar jewellery. There are replicas of their jewels made according to original designs. For the court jeweller’s book of designs can be seen at the exhibition, as well as orders, accounts, bills. In Elizabeth’s case: a great many unpaid ones.

Masques were a hit at brother Charles’s London court? Elizabeth introduced these in The Hague. Masked balls were the rage and one dressed up as goddess? Amalia was painted as one – and Elizabeth too.

The rivalry does not stop at masques, balls, paintings, palaces. Elizabeth loses her husband; her brother his kingdom and head. She plays the lonely, feeble widow – though she raises an army and fails to reconquer her husband’s Pfalz. Amalia becomes a widow too. She turns palace Huis ten Bosch into a shrine to commemorate Frederik-Hendrik’s successful battles.

Each has children to marry off? One stresses royal blood and royal relations. The other one lacks this trump card, but has money. A painting at this exhibition illustrates the sad history of Louisa Hollandina, one of Elizabeth’s talented daughters.

Elizabeth negotiates a marriage to another German prince. Like her mother and father, Louisa and her German prince meet and fall in love. But the prince’s father marries him off to … one of Amalia’s daughters. Amalia secretly negotiated this marriage and then as now: money buys anything.

The most galling marriage – according to a letter written by Elizabeth – is Amalia managing to marry her son William II of Orange to Mary Stuart, Elizabeth’s niece. Ultimately, Amalia’s grandson William III will marry another Mary Stuart and end up on the English throne.

The exhibition not only contains paintings, engravings, jewellery, and antiques. It also shows examples of letters written or signed by both women. Their spelling can be erratic and phonetic. Interesting is the example of the use of cypher and tiny secret messages.

The museum of course has a permanent exhibition as well. But on the third floor is another small temporary exhibition. It’s about immigrants and refugees like Elizabeth, Amalia, and more recent ones and their influence upon The Hague’s cultural life. So though less famous than the Mauritshuis, this small museum is currently well worth a visit.

For the museum’s website: Haags Historisch Museum

The reopened Mauritshuis Museum

This summer, the refurbished and enlarged Mauritshuis Museum reopened. “Girl with Pearl Earring”, the “Goldfinch”, and many more masterpieces can be visited at “home” again.

My expat readers’ group had read Donna Tartt’s “Goldfinch”. Guess I was the only one not to like the book, but a few members were interested in looking at the painting. Other friends were in a hurry to visit the reopened museum, despite hype and long queues. Not me: friends from my museum network had attended the grand opening and were not impressed. They warned me not to expect too much and to wait till the hype died down.

For the house itself and its collection of mostly Dutch masters have not changed. What has changed is for instance the museum entrance. This used to be at the side, but has been relocated to the front. You go through the gate and either down a flight of stairs, or take an elevator. Once downstairs, you find yourselves in a large and light hall. It contains ticket boots, information desks, cloak room, lockers (2 Euro coin needed), museum shop, toilets, and access either to the house itself or to the museum’s new wing.

This new wing can be reached by going up the flight of stairs next to the museum shop. This wing has space for temporary exhibitions, workshops, and more. The museum café, or “Brasserie” is also located there and should be an improvement on the former “coffee bar” in the cellars. However, as The Hague’s “Plein” (square) is right next to the Mauritshuis Museum, you will find plenty decent and affordable café’s and restaurants nearby.

The other flight of stairs leads up into the Mauritshuis itself. Fortunately there is another elevator. You end up in the grand hall and see the formal reception room with its lovely views across the “Hofvijver”. Visitors would have entered through the large main gate and front door, into the hall with beautifully carved and stuccoed staircases to walk straight on into this beautiful room with painted ceiling and interesting sconces.

A stroll through the rooms on the various floors of what was the townhouse of count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, gives an excellent impression of not only Dutch grand masters. The collection also consists of paintings by for instance Holbein, Breugel, Rubens, van Dijk, and others. I love Holbein’s small portrait of Jane Seymour, as well as his imposing portrait of Robertus Cheseman. Other favourites include portraits by Rubens and van Dijck, which make me visit this museum again and again.

There are plenty other paintings which just ask you to admire and linger. Another favourite is the series of paintings by Troost in Hogarth style. But most people of course come for the Rembrandts and Vermeers. Unfortunately, this means there is nearly always a group in front of them.

In fact, the only thing which truly marred our visit this time, were the guides and groups. We started our visit at 10:15 (the museum opens at 10:00), but the guided tours were already ensuring it was difficult to have a good look at many paintings. In one of the rooms, a French-speaking guide actually ordered us to move out of his way – and his group. Unfortunately enough for him, one of my friends and I speak French and refused to budge. Who the hell did “Napoleon” think he was? He stopped just short of manhandling us.

So if you visit, be prepared to have to deal with this kind of outrageous behaviour, as well as to jostle with groups of over 20 people and individual visitors, in rooms of what is actually a house.

If you have not been saturated after a visit to this wonderful museum, you can see more! The museum Gallery Willem V, also along the Hofvijver, shows even more paintings from the large Mauritshuis collection. You can buy a combination ticket.

Personally, I think a Dutch Museum Card is still the best value for money. It is valid for a year and costs about 55 Euro. The ordinary entrance fee for the Mauritshuis is 14 Euro. With this Museum Kaart, you have free access to this and over 300 other museums, including the Rijksmuseum and Vincent van Gogh, and can visit the museums as often as you like during the period your card is valid. Nearly all museums have a website with ticket information, so you should be able to work out what is your best deal.

Museum Mauritshuis
Museum Gallery Willem V