PASTEL PORTRAITS in the Netherlands at Museum van Loon, Amsterdam

At FOAM, Jacob Riis’ photos show [ibid] the horrors of 19th century New York slums. Right across Amsterdam’s Keizersgracht, is a charming canal house museum. Its current exhibition Pastel Portraits in the Netherlands depicts well-to-do Dutch citizens.

One of Rembrandt’s master pupils was the first tenant of what is now Museum van Loon. Many tenants followed. Till the wealthy van Loon family bought the canal house, garden and coach house, in 1884.

They later turned their home into a museum. It shows visitors how wealthy families lived in an Amsterdam canal house. The family mingled with Dutch and foreign royals, as photos in one of the period rooms show.

Temporary exhibitions care located either in the former coach house, or the main building. The latest exhibition, ‘Pastels, the pastel portrait in the Netherlands’, is situated on the first floor of the main building.

Pastel crayons are a quick medium. Artists used and use it, to quickly capture a landscape, mood, composition, sitter. During the Rococo, Italian artist Rosalba Carriera made pastel portraits extremely popular. A series of ‘the four seasons’ in her style is exhibited in the hall on the first floor.

Rosalba Carriera traveled through Europe, drawing portraits. She became extremely successful. Soon pastel artists followed in her footsteps. French Perronneau, Swiss-born Liotard, German Tischbein and English artist Hodges? They all visited the Netherlands, where they popularized pastel portraits.

Citizens appreciated the softness, subtle tonalities, shimmering textures and elegant, charming portraits pastel artists created. Moreover, a pastel was cheaper than an oil portrait. For it required fewer sittings and was finished faster.

Small wonder, this medium was used to portray children. The exhibition contains many portraits of adult family members. There are also plenty portraits of young van Loon children.

Around 1815 for instance, Hodges captures Catharina and Henriette van Loon. The elder one clutches a doll, while her younger sister tugges at the doll’s dress. This is one of two versions Hodges made of the two sisters.

However, the most stunning pastel portrait in this small exhibition, shows a young girl in a swath of white and orange-red, shimmering cloth. This is the exhibition’s ‘poster girl’. The portrait was created by a Dutch artist.

Pastel portraitist Thèrése Schwartze, created the stunning image in 1888. The girl is none other than Princess Wilhelmina. This portrait of a Dutch royal concludes this exhibition. By then, Schwartze is as succesful as Rosalba Carriera. Schwartze’s pastel portraits cost as much as oil portraits.

Amsterdam’s Keizersgracht separates this exhibition of pastel portraits of rich Dutch citizens from Jacob Riis’ photos of New York slum dwellers at FOAM. Till 15th of April 2018, it is possible to visit both exhibitions.

Museum van Loon’s ‘Pastels, pastel portraits in the Netherlands’ welcomes visitors till 8th of June 2018. It opened the same week as the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam’s ‘High Society’ exhibition. More ‘High Society’ in a next post!    Kate Den   16th March 2018


Therese Schwartze Wilhelmina painting courtesy of Museum van Loon