Today I toured Holland looking for my favorite Dutch paintings. Amsterdam's Rijkmuseum contains most of them. Rembrandt and Vermeer are my favorite 17th century painters. The fragment of music accompanying this page was written by Sybrand Van Noordt, a 17th century Dutch baroque composer. The paintings of this century are more familiar to us than the music. Vermeer's style was intimately tied into visual optics and the science of light; whereas, Rembrandt's style, though certainly a master of baroque lighting, was not photogenic like Vermeer's, but highly tactile — what artists call painterly. Like Van Gogh, Rembrandt loved lobbing on the pigment till you could feel the bumps. The most popular of all his paintings is Night Watch. Crowds flock to it like they do to the Mona Lisa. And who is that little brightly lit waif running under the watchmen, anyway? If I were to join Captain Cocq's shooting company, I wonder where Rembrandt would place me? Hmmm...let's see...nahhhh.

night watch

On the same mall, called Museumplein, there is also the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk, a museum of contemporary art. I was more interested in the Van Gogh's, in particular, the self-portraits painted between 1886 and 1888 showing Van Gogh's transition from old Dutch painting to Impressionism. They look like eight different guys wearing the same beard. Not only are they morose, but they also seem worried, perhaps even paranoid. A couple are so intense they appear angry, all except for that fellow in the yellow hat. He's not present or conscious of where he is at all. Is this a self portrait? Perhaps the intensity would have been there if he had finished it. Van Gogh proved that masterpieces could be painted rapidly in the frenzy of an afternoon — something Rembrandt and Vermeer could never have imagined. Who would have guessed that such a rough façade hid the kindest and gentlest of souls? I always lump up when I hear McLean's Starry Night even though it's probably not true that Van Gogh shot himself. It's more likely he was the victim of boyish pranks, and would not reveal the actual culprits.

On the other extreme, what we get from Vermeer's portraits is serenity — the opposite of Van Gogh's glares. He painted about 30 ladies, from all social strata, in pensive mental modes. He painted them calm and quiet — slowly, gracefully, with reflection, probably tracing their outlines with an image projector. Somehow, Vermeer projected not only the image of his subjects onto canvas, but his own mental state as well. However, it doesn't matter how he did it. All that matters is that he gave us these few eternal moments where time stands still. We value Vermeer's paintings more than his contemporaries who also painted in the same realistic style, a style valued highly by Dutch merchants who wanted their possessions depicted with precise clarity. (After all, these are the folks who invented the microscope.) But paintings by Vermeer's contemporaries did not have his tranquility — his meditative extra dimension. This is why I question the authenticity of Love Letter. The women do not have the same meditative pose as women in Vermeer's other paintings. They are out of character — a bit too soapy. Perhaps Vermeer was indulging in a quickie, or someone was trying to imitate his style?

Little Street Milk Maid Love Letter Woman in Blue Girl with Pearl

The Girl with the Pearl Earring and View of Delft are stored in the Hague at the Mauritshuis Museum. Before that movie about a girl with a pearl earring, his largest and most famous painting was The Allegory of Painting,
now sleeping with the Klimts back in Vienna. But I was more interested in the girl. So I hopped a train to The Hague. She was worth it.

delft view

Somewhere in transit, I met a man who owned a film company in Brussels. We started talking about animations, and I described my story of a chess pawn Chess Pawn reliving the tale of Gilgamesh. Before we parted, he gave me his card and offered me a job as an animator in his company. Told me to go see his son in Brussels about starting salaries and such. Well, why not? Caught a train to Belgium, passing Delft along the way. Because it was dark and I did not know where to find an open field when the trains stopped running, I may have slept this night in a youth hostel in Essen just over the Belgian border, or maybe even a shopping mall. Apparently, no passport stamp was required. Was the night watch out tonight?