Chapter XI. Amsterdam's Pictures
The room in which is Vermeer's "Reader" contains also Maes's "Spinning Woman" (see page 230), two or three Peter de Hoochs and the best Jan Steen in the Ryks. It is indeed a room to linger in, and to return to, indefinitely. De Hooch's "Store Room" (No. 1248), of which I have already spoken, is in one of the little "Cabinet piece" rooms, which are not too well lighted. Here also one may spend many hours, and then many hours more.
The "Peace of Munster" has been called Terburg's masterpiece: but the girl in his "Paternal Advice," No. 570 at the Ryks, seems to me a finer achievement. The grace and beauty and truth of her pose and the miraculous painting of her dress are unrivalled. Yet judged as a picture it is, I think, dull. The colouring is dingy, time has not dealt kindly with the background; but the figure of the girl is perfect. I give a reproduction opposite page 190. It was this picture, in one of its replicas, that Goethe describes in his Elective Affinities: a description which procured for it the probably inaccurate title "Parental Advice".
We have a fine Terburg in our National Gallery - "The Music Lesson" - and here too is his "Peace of Munster," which certainly was a great feat of painting, but which does not, I think, reproduce his peculiar characteristics and charm. These may be found somewhere between "The Music Lesson" and the portrait next the Vermeer in the smallest of the three Dutch rooms. Even more ingratiating than "The Music Lesson" is "The Toilet" at the Wallace Collection. Terburg might be called a pocket Velasquez - a description of him which will be appreciated at the Ryks Museum in the presence of his tiny and captivating "Helena van der Schalcke," No. 573, one of the gems of the Cabinet pieces (see opposite page 290), and his companion pictures of a man and his wife, each standing by a piece of red furniture - I think Nos. 574 and 575. The execution of the woman's muslin collar is among the most dexterous things in Dutch art.
From the Ryks Museum it is but a little way (past the model Dutch garden) to the Stedelijk Museum, where modern painting may be studied - Israels and Bosboom, Mesdag and James Maris, Breitner and Jan van Beers, Blommers and Weissenbruch.
There is also one room dedicated to paintings of the Barbizon school, and of this I would advise instant search. I rested my eyes here for an hour. A vast scene of cattle by Troyon (who, such is the poverty of the Dutch alphabet, comes out monstrously upon the frame as Troijon); a mysterious valley of trees by Corot; a wave by Courbet; a mere at evening by Daubigny - these are like cool firm hands upon one's forehead.
Nothing graceful, wise, or sainted, -
That is how the Dutchman painted,
is so sweeping as to be untrue. Indeed it is wholly absurd. The truth simply is that one goes to Dutch art for the celebration of fact without mystery or magic. In other words, Dutch painting is painting without poetry; and it is this absence of poetry which makes the romantic Frenchmen appear to be such exotics when one finds them in Holland, and why it is so pleasant in Holland now and then to taste their quality, as one may at the Stedelijk Museum and in the Mesdag Collection at The Hague.
We must not forget, however, that under the French influence certain modern Dutch painters have been quickened to celebrate the fact with poetry. In a little room adjoining the great French room at the Stedelijk Museum will be found some perfect things by living or very recent artists for whom Corot did not work in vain: a mere by James Maris, with a man in a blue coat sitting in a boat; a marsh under a white sky by Matthew Maris; a village scene by the same exquisite craftsman. These three pictures, but especially the last two, are in their way as notable and beautiful as anything by the great names in Dutch art.
On the ground floor of the Stedelijk Museum is the series of rooms named after the Suasso family which should on no account be missed, but of which no notice is given by the Museum authorities. These rooms are furnished exactly as they would have been by the best Dutch families, their furniture and hangings having been brought from old houses in the Keizersgracht and the Heerengracht. The kitchen is one of the prettiest things in Holland - with its shining brass and copper, its delicate and dainty tiles and its air of cheerful brightness. Some of the carving in the other rooms is superb; the silver, the china, the clocks are all of the choicest. The custodian has a childlike interest in secret drawers and unexpected recesses, which he exhibits with a gusto not habitual in the Dutch cicerone. For the run of these old rooms a guelder is asked; one sees the three rooms on the other side of the entrance hall for twenty-five cents, the church and museum unit of Holland. But they are uninteresting beside the larger suite. They consist of an old Dutch apothecary's shop and laboratory; a madhouse cell; and the bedroom of a Dutch lady who has just presented her lord with an infant. We see the mother in bed, a doctor at her side, and in the foreground a nurse holding the baby. Except that the costumes and accessories are authentic the tableau is in no way superior to an ordinary waxwork.