TEDxAUCollege | What art to see in the break blogpost
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Get arty during the break: 3 must-see masterpieces by Dutch painters

-Nina Liu

As you might know, the Netherlands has produced a large number of renowned artists and artworks, such as Rembrandt’s famous ‘The Night Watch’. Reading week is just around the corner, so why not visit some local museums to make the best use of the first holiday of the academic year? We’ve made a round-up of three artworks – each with a distinct style – that are definitely worth seeing.

Relativity by M.C. Escher

Can you imagine a world in which the law of gravity does not apply? Welcome to Escher’s world of Relativity. Escher (1898-1972) was a twentieth-century Dutch graphic artist, whose artwork features mathematical elements and concepts. The ‘Relativity’ print seems to depict a peaceful community where inhabitants are going about their business: dining, walking, and chatting. However, contrary to the real world, three sources of gravity are acting on the subjects. This creates a very interesting composition, which one could stare at for hours. ‘Relativity’ is one of Escher’s most famous prints, and it perfectly demonstrates his specialty in creating abstract artworks. The overarching theme of Escher’s works is ‘impossibility’, and he incorporates a lot of mathematical concepts into his artistic creations. If you want to discover some mind-blowing prints that are beyond your imagination, then Escher’s artworks should undoubtedly be on the top of your list.   Where to see: Escher in Het Paleis, The Hague. This museum shows a wide-ranging collection of Escher’s work with over 150 prints. For more information: https://www.escherinhetpaleis.nl/

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

What makes the ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ so charming is perhaps the unsolved secrets behind it: Who is the girl in the painting? What is she trying to say? The girl has a European-looking face, but she is wearing an oriental turban and a huge shining pearl earring. The creator of this painting is Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), a Dutch Golden Age painter who is often referred to as ‘The Master of Light’. When you closely examine his paintings in detail, you will be amazed by Vermeer’s skilful way of portraying light. The shimmer of the pearl slightly lights up the girl’s cheek, and the inky background forms a sharp contrast to the bright colour of her yellow dress. In order to perfectly present such different shades of light in one painting, Vermeer must have thoroughly analysed the subtle variation of lightness and saturation. If you cannot wait to appreciate Vermeer’s extraordinary painting skills at a close distance, then plan your visit to The Hague right now!   Where to see: Mauritshuis, The Hague For more information: https://www.mauritshuis.nl

The Potato Eaters by Vincent van Gogh

Most of the painting by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), such as ‘The Starry Night’ and ‘The Sunflower’, are about the beauty of nature. Viewers of his paintings are amazed by the bold usage of bright colours and the incredibly large amount of brush strokes in one painting. ‘The Potato Eaters’ features neither of these two characteristics, and thus forms a large contrast to Van Gogh’s usual works. The dark tone and the dim light of this painting makes ‘The Potato Eater’ less appealing to the eye. Instead of showing a colourful still life, it portrays the realities of the harsh life in the Dutch countryside. Although Van Gogh himself was from a relatively wealthy family, he empathised with the people who were at the very bottom of society. In ‘the Potato Eaters’, there are five peasants sitting around the table eating potatoes, all with an almost identical facial expression. The palette is dark and subdued, which evokes a sense of the weariness of the peasants. If you are interested in seeing this painting, and other works by Van Gogh, in real life, then do not hesitate to visit the Van Gogh Museum.   Where to see: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam For more information: https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/

As a final remark, here is a little tip for appreciating artworks. Having seen these three masterpieces, you may wonder ‘what makes a great painting?’ Indeed, the ‘greatness’ of art is rather subjective, but we shall never be one-sided. The value of artworks is not only about the marvelous techniques (like Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring), but also about innovation (like Escher’s ‘Relativity’) as well as the implication behind it (like Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters). Bear this in mind when visiting the museums, and I assure that you will gain a lot of inspiration!