Prized Possessions Dutch Masterpieces from National Trust Houses

Peter Morrell visits the Holburne Museum in Bath May 25 2018 – September 16, 2018 to see this engaging exhibition

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Readers may remember that I recently visited Leiden in Holland, the birthplace of Rembrandt, before travelling to The Hague to take a look at the magnificent collection of 17th century Golden Age paintings at The Mauritshouse. This was a precursor to seeing the exhibition, Prized Possessions Dutch Masterpieces from National Trust Houses, at the Holburne museum in Bath.

The exhibition is a curated collection of 22 Dutch seventeenth-century paintings by some of the finest masters of the Golden Age and selected from National Trust collections around the country. There are works by numerous celebrated artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Lely, Gabriel Metsu, Aelbert Cuyp and Cornelis de Heem together with less well-known names such as Simon Pietersz Verelst and Adriaen van Diest.

Before discussing the exhibition a word about Bath. This is a highly attractive city to visit, the grand buildings in the centre including The Holburne are built with mellow Bath stone. On the sunny day I was there the buildings literally glowed and there was an air of genteel calm in the streets

The exhibition has been curated by Rupert Goulding and David Taylor of the National Trust, Prized Possessions explores what made Dutch art so sought after among country house owners and share with audiences some of the masterpieces that they treasured.

There are many breathtaking paintings in the exhibition, the pinnacle is a Rembrandt self portrait where he portrayed himself wearing a bonnet with feather. This was painted when he was quite young. If you compare it to his last self portrait which is in the Mauritshouse the difference in his appearance is enormous and reflects the difficulties he had in his life.

Another stand out is Aelbert Cuyp’s View of Dordrecht, a rich Golden Age city and Cuyp’s home town. This painting has got wonderful lighting effects on pillowy clouds created by the setting sun, the architecture of the city suggests a place of great wealth and power.

If there was ever an Olympic medal for sneering then Simon Pietersz Verelst has captured the winner perfectly in his painting, Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Rupert was an English CivilWar hero and this was painted after his cousin James II had been restored to the throne. It was his haughtiness and arrogance that probably made him such a good solder, in addition to the face characterisation his extravagant clothes have been painted in meticulous detail .

On to subjects more frivolous, there is sexual tension in a number of the paintings. Gabriel Metsu’s The Duet shows a man serenading a well dressed woman with a lute, which is emblematic of love. The woman had a foot warmer tucked under her dress but we won’t speculate as to what it was heating up, meanwhile her lapdog, a symbol of fidelity, is looking up and seems to be giving her a warning.

Our bawdy old friend Jan Steen is represented with his painting, The Tired Traveller. A maid or waitress is offered a man a glass of wine, she averts her gaze as he looks at her with deep intensely, the tension is palpable.

Ambrosius Bosschaert the Younger’s Blackbird, Butterfly and Cherries is a delightful vignette painted with thoughtful detail including a cherry that has been pecked by the bird. Bosschaert’s trademark was to always paint at least one fly in his pictures, we are not disappointed, in the bottom right of the composition sits a fine example with a glossy black body and gossamer wings.

Pieter de Hooch from the Delft school is represented by his painting The Golfers. This is a picture of two young children playing with sticks and a ball. The chubby, curly haired infant in the foreground is cheekily looking at a third party, it’s a charming scene.

All of the paintings in the exhibition have got a special quality that make the entire collection unmissable. Bath is less than 90 minutes by train from London and the Holburne is a 15 minute stroll from the railway station so it’s an easy day out to see the exhibition and enjoys other attractions in the city.

Following the exhibition at the Holburne Museum, Prized Possessions will move to the Mauritshuis in The Hague in October 2018, and then to Petworth House in West Sussex in January 2019.

I also had time to visit the permanent collection at The Holburne. It’s a comprehensive and has many examples of art works not just paintings. There is some fine portraiture including Gainsboroughs, an intriguing work by Stubbs and a fine collection of porcelain.

About the National Trust’s art collection

The National Trust looks after some of the finest painting collections in the UK with over 12,000 easel paintings, along with miniatures, watercolours and wall paintings. These include masterpieces by artists such as Titian, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Velázquez, Reynolds and Gainsborough.
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About The Holburne Museum

The Holburne’s mission statement is ‘Changing Lives Through Art’, signalling its commitment to opening up the enjoyment of art to people of all ages and from every walk of life.

The Holburne was founded in 1882 with the gift of Sir William Holburne’s collection of 16th and 17th century Italian and Dutch paintings, silver, sculpture, furniture, porcelain and diverse objets d’art of national and international significance. That founding gift has been augmented with a collection of 18th century paintings by such artists as Gainsborough, Lawrence, Ramsay, Stubbs and Zoffany.

The Holburne Museum, Great Pulteney Street, Bath BA2 4DB
Open daily, free admission 10am – 5pm (11am – 5pm Sundays and Bank Holidays)