Exhibition: the neighbours’ portraits at the Mauritshuis

After the delicious exhibition of 17th century “food”-paintings, the Mauritshuis Museum opened its “winter”-exhibition today. Visitors are shown a selection of the best portraits painted by Flemish masters loaned to this museum, by the closed Antwerp KMSKA. This exhibition is located in the Mauritshuis’ exhibition wing.

Continue reading


Amsterdam Cromhouthuis: drawings by da Vinci, Rubens, Rembrandt

When wealthy business tycoon Carl Joseph Fodor died in 1860, he left his art collection to Amsterdam. Now a selection of absolute highlights from Fodor’s collection can be admired at a small Amsterdam canal-house. In the period house, visitors are treated to drawings by world-famous artist like da Vinci, Rubens, Rembrandt.

Continue reading

To be admired: David Bowie’s Tintoretto

David Bowie’s only Tintoretto, a painting which was one of the first he bought for his art collection, was recently auctioned at Sotheby’s. An anonymous art collector bought it for  £191,000. The Antwerp Rubenshuis museum announced today, the collector who bought it, has arranged for this painting to be loaned to the museum.

Tintoretto’s altar piece “Saint Catherine” will hang in Rubens’ former home from spring 2017 onwards. Tintoretto was commissioned to paint the work for the Venetian church of San Geminiano, located at the Piazza San Marco, in 1570.

The loan is “intended to honor Bowie’s life-long love of and generosity towards museums and cultural institutions.” Though Rubens admired and was influenced by Tintoretto and Italian contemporaries, the museum has no works by these masters in its own collection. Interesting additional fact is, that Rubens’ pupil Anthony van Dyck even made a drawing of this particular painting during a stay in Italy.

It is not yet known from which exact date this painting can be admired at the museum.

Antwerpen, Rubenshuis Museum
Sotheby’s description for the 11th November auction

Clara Serena remains at home

Enjoyed the recent temporary exhibition at the Rubenshuis, Antwerp? Many portraits of Rubens’ family members, who actually lived in the house, were brought together again for this exhibition in their former home. Most of these portraits were sold through the ages and are now the property of museums, or private collectors.

Continue reading

After two Rembrandts, it’s now a Rubens

While Dutch owners claim Maerten and his Oopjen will tour the country (see: “Near divorce, uneasy marriage”) – and French owners still fume, their government did not prohibit the two paintings ever leaving France – the museum world buzzes again. Early this week, rumour had it, another art “marriage” was being brokered. This time, the painting was no Rembrandt, but a Rubens.

Continue reading

Museum and Exhibitions: another Manneken

As mentioned in earlier posts, the Rubenshuis Museum hosts a temporary exhibition focussing on Rubens’ family portraits. It does not include all the portraits he made of his friends. Nor are all the portraits he made of his family on show. Last time I saw one of my favourite Rubens paintings exhibited in this very museum, was ages ago. “Het Pelsken” or “The Fur”, is still hanging in Vienna.

It is a highly private portrait Rubens made of his second wife. It certainly was not meant to be seen by all and sundry. It’s all about Helene Fourment and the fur she uses to partly cover herself. Or so we see it now.

Staff of Leuven University and of Antwerp University in Belgium, recently were given permission to scan the “Pelsken” now hanging in Vienna. They made quite an astonishing discovery. With their equipment they were able to look through the upper layers of paint. They discovered a kind of Manneken Pis has been painted over.

What does a statue like Manneken Pis, now standing in Brussels, do in this painting created in Antwerp centuries earlier? Well, according to experts the painted over Manneken symbolises lust, marriage, youth, fertility. The now blotted out part of this portrait would have made it an even more erotic painting, than it already is.

Helene is not painted as a chaste, but as a very seductive and sexy Venus. Shocking? Perhaps, but remember: this portrait was intended for Peter Paul and Helene’s bedroom.

It was definitely not to be seen by and shared with museum visitors. Did Helene ask her husband to blot out the fountain with the Manneken? Or did Rubens decide the painting was erotic enough without it?

Whatever: this painting is now too fragile to be lent to exhibitions. In the Rubenshuis, a banner depicting it hangs in the last attic room. In this room, there are several samples of Rubens’ letters – in various languages. The main focus of the exhibition are, however, the portraits.

As mentioned in earlier posts, the exhibition shows you about thirty portraits. The first attic room goes into Rubens’ family tree. Here you find paintings of ancestors.

Then follow the rooms with portraits of friends and his brother. After these follow rooms displaying portraits of Rubens wives, children, and himself. Somehow, the portrait of Clara Serena aged about twelve enthralls me. I keep coming back to it time and again.

A few portraits of Clara Serena’s mother, Isabella Brandt, are also delightful. The portrait by van Dijck somehow seems a bit over the top. However, a sketch of her by Rubens does impress. The best portrait is the one which normally hangs in New York. It captures Isabella as a jolly, funny, yet firm and strong woman. Interestingly, as with the Clara Serena portrait, one of the Isabella Brandt portraits may have been painted posthumously.

Somehow, Helene Fourment, Rubens’ second wife, pales beside her. Where Isabelle sparkles and is very present in the portraits, Helene seems sweet, timid, and practically bland. Though of course … with the “Pelske” … she can’t have been bland or dull at all.

Helene married Rubens when she was just sixteen. She became his widow when she was twenty-six and had a posthumous child. She managed the estate and after a few years married again. She and her second husband had several children. Helene died and was buried in the Rubens chapel of the Saint Jacob church in Antwerp, which can still be visited.

The fascinating temporary exhibition can be visited till the end of June. As stated in a previous post, the museum is not easily accessible for all. For more information: Rubenshuis.

Museums: A painter’s home

It would have been a noisy and busy house. One of the greatest Flemish Baroque painters lived here. The 17th century building stands at the square called Wapper, in Antwerp. Antwerp’s centre has plenty of such streets and squares with intriguing names, lined with historic buildings.

In this period home, two sets of children grew up. Rubens‘ children from his marriage to Isabella Brandt lived here. His children of his second marriage, to Helene Fourment, would have played here too.

The house would not only have been full of these youngsters and their parents. There would have been servants, friends, visitors. The master’s studio would have been full of his students and assistants, visiting fellow painters, patrons and clients.

It is odd walking its corridors, where once Rubens lived and his student Anthony van Dyck worked. Or where a painter like the Breughel discussed with Rubens, which animals would be painted in and where, on their joint version of “Adam and Eve”. It can now be admired in the Mauritshuis Museum.

Clients, patrons, friends and visitors would not only have been entertained indoors. Like present-day visitors, they would have been able to stroll in the garden. This still exists, though reduced in size.

Tickets and audio tours can be obtained in the modern building in front of the museum. This modern building also houses the museum shop. Cross the Wapper and enter through the gate. You can already see the garden at the back of the house.

The house still has its heavy wooden doors, shutters, stairs and floors which still creak. You can imagine the racket caused by Rubens and his wife walking, servants hurrying, children running and screaming through it. There can’t have been much privacy, for you hear your fellow visitors move about.

One enters the house through its gate and the left door underneath it. In the reception room, you will find a sample of the embossed leather, which was used as “wallpaper” in many rooms. It is the only bit you are allowed to touch. You will find similar “wallpaper” in the Moretus-Plantin museum and the home of Ruben’s patron, mayor Rockox. These are both museums you can visit as well.

This “wallpaper”, with its dark colours, in combination with the dark wooden floors, orange or green tiles, occasional dark panelling and indoor shutters in front of all the windows, make these houses pretty dark. The leather and wood and shutters, as well as heavy curtains in front of most doors must have helped keep the cold out though.

The ante-room leads to the delightful kitchen with lovely tiles and large fire-place. From the kitchen you visit other rooms at ground level, all decorated with period furniture and works of art.

Rubens was a serious collector and also received gifts from important clients. One of the most interesting ground floor rooms is his custom-built display room, where he exhibited his collection of antiquities.

From this purpose-built room, you find your way back to a small flight of stairs to the first floor. Once on the landing, turn left and up a few steps. You are in the main bedroom. Turn back and walk to the next bedroom.

The room contains a 17th century box-bed. This is beautifully carved, but remarkably small. People were usually smaller than we are and also slept propped upright in bed.

Next to this room, lies a linnen room where table clothes, sheets and costly cloths were apparently kept. An intriguing metal fixture is on display, which was used to create the folds of those odd millstone collars. The room  also contains a beautifully carved clothes press.

Room after room follow. In one of these, there are two new acquisitions on show. One is a portrait of a Madonna which may or may not be by Rubens. The other one is a study of a man’s head. But in this case, the attribution to Rubens seems more likely.

There follow more tricky steps up and down to an attic. Under the eaves is the museum’s temporary exhibition. Take a flight of stairs to the ground floor and you are in the master’s studio with its permanent exhibition and corridor leading to the Baroque garden.

This being a period home, there are a lot of stairs and steps – and no elevator. So some parts of the museum are not suitable for all visitors. The garden and its ornaments are currently being restored. So though it can be visited, it is not displaying its full splendour.

As mentioned above, a corridor from the former studio leads to the garden and exit, as well as the museum restaurant and toilets. When I visited, it was difficult to miss the toilets. The faint smell of urine became quite strong along both the corridor to the garden and to the toilets. I hastily made for the exit into the garden and fresh air.

Museum Rubenshuis, Antwerp
Museum Moretus-Plantin, Antwerp
Rockox House Museum, Antwerp

An Antwerp family reunion – a very special exhibition

He was a diplomat, as well as a very talented artist. He married twice and portrayed not only the mighty and wealthy of his time, but also friends and family members. His house still exists. You can visit it in Antwerp and the next few months, it hosts a very special exhibition.

This weekend, the new temporary exhibition “Rubens in private” opens in the Rubenshuis. It shows portraits of the master himself, his friends, his family members – painted by Rubens himself. This exhibition runs from the 28th of March till the 28th of June and is expected to draw large crowds.

The exhibition is situated on the house’s first floor. As this home is a historic Baroque building, most rooms are small and not all are easily accessible. If rooms become too crowded, access will be monitored and restricted. So the museum advises you to book your ticket in advance through their website (scroll down).

What makes this such a special exhibition is not the fact, that these portraits are reunited in a place where they were created. Nor that they come from all over the world: like the Louvre, the St Petersburg Hermitage, the British Museum, or the Uffizi – to name a few museums.

No, these portraits were not ordered. They were not painted to please and delight rich customer, important clients, European power-brokers. Rubens, who apparently loathed painting portraits, painted these for pleasure. So this exhibition not only shows great works of art. It shows works created out of love, appreciation, esteem, friendship.

What captured my imagination most, were two portraits of Clara Serena. The oil portrait from the Liechtenstein Collection, shows her as a chubby five-year-old. Her hair is a bit unruly, one of her cheeks shows a hint of a dimple, she seems to suppress a naughty giggle. Her parents, Peter Paul Rubens and his first wife Isabella Brant, must have loved her dearly.

There is also a later portrait. The colours are subdued and the chubby face is pinched and drawn. The eyes are huge. The Metropolitan Museum owned it. However, after research concluded it had been created by a student – rather than Rubens himself – the museum put it up for sale. Not that this means such a work can then be “bought for nought”. (Read the “sleeper” and “rediscovered” articles by mr Grosvenor, Art History News.)

After the auction, more research was done and experts agreed the portrait was by Peter Paul Rubens after all. So Clara Serena was painted by her father again, when she was about twelve years old. The remaining mystery now is: did he paint her when he was aware she was ill and dying? Or did he paint her from memory; perhaps starting even a few hours, or just days after her death? Or were father and daughter totally unaware of a looming disaster?

Of course, there are happier portraits of other family members and friends. There are portraits of Isabella Brandt, as well as of Rubens’ second wife, Hélène Fourment. There are individual portraits, studies, group portraits – about fifty in all – to be admired.

This exhibition introducing you to the Rubens family, is truly one you shouldn’t miss. For what can be more wonderful, than viewing all these private mementoes in the place where they were created and where they belong? The home, where once these people worked, talked, bickered, played, shared meals, or walked in its Baroque garden – in Antwerp’s lovely historic town centre.

Don’t forget there are special events like guided walks being organised, linked to this Rubens exhibition. Antwerp also has a lot of other interesting museums, like the former home of Rubens friend and patron, mayor Rockox. So if you’re going to visit this temporary exhibition, don’t forget to have a look at the Antwerp Tourist Office website (scroll down) to help you plan your stay.

Website Rubenshuis museum. Please note that due to this special exhibition, normal ticket prices have changed.
Website Rockox museum. (Where the famous Agnes Sorel portrait may still be exhibited.)
Antwerp Tourist Information website.

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