The Hague

I spent last week traveling around the Netherlands for work, staying in Amsterdam and going out by train to the university towns (Eindhoven, Utrecht, Leiden). I stayed for a weekend break, and since I’d been to Amsterdam before and done a lot of the tourist things, I went instead to the Hague.

On Saturday morning I went to the Escher museum in the Dutch royal family’s old winter palace. There they had all the major Escher prints and a decent explanation of how he moved over time from idealized depictions of natural settings to imaginary settings to pure geometric forms. I would have liked there to have been more about how he took inspiration from maths (particulary the hyperbolic geometry of the Poincaré disk in the Circle Limit series), but I’m probably unusual in that regard.

In the afternoon the weather brightened up a bit, so I took the tram to Scheveningen, which is the Netherlands’ main seaside town. There I walked along the beach a bit, had a look at the pier and took some photos. When I’d finally gritted myself to do it I stripped to my pants and ran into the North sea. I was only in for about 30 seconds, but it was enough to make me feel all alive and weary at the same time for the rest of the day. Then I went back into the warm for a coffee and a stroopwaffel.

On Sunday morning I went to the Mauritshuis gallery, which has a large collection of paintings by Dutch and Flemish Old Masters. To be honest, these are the paintings I usually skip in art galleries so I can get on to the impressionists and modern stuff, but when in Holland… I mean, I can tell that these paintings are technically very accomplished, but for the most part they don’t do anything for me. They’re all too brown, or are portraits of nobles, or both. I prefer landscapes and colours. The most famous1 painting there is Girl with a Pearl Earing by Johannes Vermeer, which, to be fair, is lovely. But I couldn’t help thinking that it stood out because it wasn’t brown. I’m being a little unfair, there were some other paintings I liked there: The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, View of Haarlem by Jacob van Ruisdael, and View of Delft, also by Vermmeer, come to mind. There was also Rembrandt’s last self-portrait, which I liked very much. But his famous Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp left me cold.

So, art: I know what I like, but I can’t really explain why.

  1. So famous that the gift shop was selling Girl with a Pearl Earring rubber ducks. ↩︎

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