Beantown became New New Amsterdam, with the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston nearly doubling its Dutch and Flemish holdings, adding 114 donations, pledges and loans from two collector couples, Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo and Susan and Matthew Weatherbie.
The works, pledged jointly to the MAE in 2017, are now presented for the first time.
Reinstalled Dutch and Flemish Galleries and a new one Dutch Art Center, with 43,000 volumes, including Dutch and Flemish books donated by the van Otterloos, as well as a workspace for visiting scholars, propels the 151-year-old institution into elite company.
As with Impressionism, the MFA will be known for its Dutch and Flemish art, with only the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art having better collections in the United States, said Frederick Ilchman, chair of the art chair. European MFA.
“We may never get the late Rembrandt, and there’s no chance of getting a Vermeer, but in everything else we’re now as strong or stronger,” he said.
During an hour-long tour, Ilchman told Artnet News that the MFA prioritizes spotlighting female artists and how colonialism and slave labor underlie many works. Visitors and scholars may be divided on whether the MFA appropriately balanced celebrating the art and indicting those who crafted it, but all will likely agree that it installed chiefs -to work in a thoughtful way.
The New Old Masters
Upright in front of Rachel Ruysch Still life with flowers (1709), Ilchman noted that the artist pioneered the es curves that enliven flower arrangements. “Ten years ago you would say, ‘The most well-known female flower painter was Rachel Ruysch,'” he said. “We just call her ‘one of the finest flower painters,’ because that’s what she is.”
Several works required reassignment. A quintessential series on “The Five Senses” (1650) by the Flemish artist Michaelina Wautier is part of a repertoire of only 30 or 40 known works, and the series was originally entrusted to another artist.
“Any museum would be happy to have asaid Ilchman. “It was just old-fashioned sexism that wrote it.” Despite Feel depicting a rotten egg, the series hangs in a rotunda where the MFA hosts food parties. “We’re trying to make a statement that a female artist can be central here,” Ilchman said.
Another gallery presents a rare Judith Leyster self-portrait (c. 1650) – which fetched $593,883 at Christie’s on December 8, 2016 in an Old Masters sale – from a private collection, and Maria Schalcken’s Self-portrait of the artist in his studio (c. 1680), which was given to his brother, Godfried, until his signature was discovered.
The latter faces Rembrandt Artist in his studio (c. 1628), famous for hiding the canvas within a canvas from the viewer. Ilchman thinks it depicts “the intimidation of starting a big project” and Rembrandt reflects on the start of his career. Nearby, Jan Davidsz. deHeem c. 1630 Interior of a painter’s studio seems to respond to Rembrandt, Ilchman said.
Alongside a dollhouse variously composed in the 17th and 18th centuries, Rembrandt’s 1634 Portrait of a woman wearing a gold chain and Portrait of a man wearing a black hat reverses the typical representations of couples. Rembrandt painted the woman more masterfully and invitingly than the man, noted Ilchman. These two then serve as microcosms for the new galleries, in which traditional gender roles are often reversed.
Who owns the golden age?
Everything that shines is not gold, however, in galleries that deliberately avoid discussing a Dutch “golden age”. Seventeenth-century Dutch has, in recent times, become a proxy site into which conservatives infuse contemporary concerns about race, gender, and economics. The 2015 Dutch MFA show”Class Honorsaddressed Occupy Wall Street, and three years later the National Gallery was slammed why the Washington Post‘s Philip Kennicott considered downplaying the importance of slavery and colonialism in his marine show”Water, wind and waves.”
In the current exhibition of the Dutch and Flemish Art Collection of the Lee and Juliet Folger Fund at the National Gallery, “Clouds, Ice and Bountythe introductory text notes that the Dutch owned colonies and participated in the slave trade, and that the age “was not golden for all”. A still life label by Pieter Claesz adds that they used slave labor on the sugar cane plantations.
Two wall texts in an MFA trade gallery also deal with slavery. The Dutch used ‘forced labour, including slavery’, the label adds to a model of the Dutch East India Company vessel Valkenisse. “We tackled slavery and colonialism in a big way,” Ilchman said.
Arthur Wheelock, a former longtime curator of the National Gallery Northern Baroque and an art historian at the University of Maryland, is generally uncomfortable with what he calls an over-correction of “the Golden age”. (Wheelock has yet to see the MFA galleries and comment on the terrain, not the Boston museum installation.)
Holland was not a perfect society, but it was long seen as a nation that did its best to support the poor and disadvantaged. He welcomed Jews and allowed Catholics to worship in private, provided they didn’t make a fuss, Wheelock said. (Thus, the “hidden” churches of Holland.) Most Dutch ships carried goods, and not all slaves, Wheelock said. “Selecting the Dutch and sullying the whole society because of it, it’s complicated.”
Wheelock believes that viewers can take away “humanizing messages” of dignity, love and faith from seeing Dutch and Flemish art. “They teach the complexities of life,” he said. “I think it’s important to be able to speak up and say, ‘This is important. They remain important. We can all take messages from them to guide us.
Whether corrective or overcorrective, museums can mislead visitors if they focus exclusively on 17th-century Dutch business practices, and not, for example, on the fabulously wealthy French kings or Russian tsars, who may also have been implicated in systems of human rights violations.
In fairness to seventeenth-century Dutch businessmen, shouldn’t the curators also publicly scrutinize the business ventures of their current donors, the very people whose philanthropy and aesthetic taste they celebrate in their labels? ? Cultural tax audits, after all, should probe evenly.
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