Agony or Ecstasy?

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

On a first visit to The Netherlands earlier this year, our plan was to traverse the quaint canals and bridges of Amsterdam, stand in the shadows of Kinderdjyk’s working windmills, and learn more about the country’s wartime era, perhaps through a stop at the Anne Frank House. I also looked forward to a field of their famous tulips, and Dutch treats like stroopwafels, poffertjes, and bitterballen.  Sure, I ticked the boxes on several of these items, but I was also blindsided by a group-tour-captive stop at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. 8,000 artworks covering 800 years of Dutch history (in what felt like 80 different rooms)?  Not my idea of a delightful morning in Holland.

I’m not what you’d call a “patron of the arts”, though I’m about to contradict myself.  I love a classical performance by a symphony orchestra.  I’m drawn to the theater’s foremost stage productions (Les Miserables comes to mind).  I even enjoy the occasional visit to a museum, provided the subject is specific and of my choosing (ex. Amsterdam’s Dutch Resistance Versetsmuseum).  But endless rooms of paintings on walls and free-standing sculptures behind glass?  As the Dutch would say, nee bedankt ik zal slagen.  No thanks, I’ll pass.

Here’s where I contradict myself a second time.  As I type this post I’m sipping morning coffee from the mug in the photo.  The mug is a souvenir from my “captivating” visit to the Rijksmuseum.  The painting on the mug is called “Children of the Sea” (1872), by Dutch artist Jozef Israels.  Go figure; I was able to blow past the throngs flocking to the Rembrandts and Vermeers and van Goghs; yet a small artwork in the corner of Rijksmuseum Room 118 captivated me enough to take a little piece of it home.  I probably spent as much time in front of that painting as I did the rest of the museum.

Jozef Israels’ “Children of the Sea” (1872), Rijksmuseum, The Netherlands

Naturally I had to learn more about “Children of the Sea”.  When I returned to Colorado, I read up on Jozef Israels.  Not only was he “… a leading member of a group of landscape painters known as the Hague School…”, Israels was “… the most respected Dutch artist of the second half of the nineteen century”.  Do I know how to pick ’em or what?  Maybe I have a little art appreciation in me after all.

“Children of the Sea”, as you might expect, offers a deeper message than a group of kids playing on the beach.  Their simple clothing and toys hint at a life of poverty.  The eldest child is quite literally carrying his family on his shoulders.  The boat suggests the rigors of life at sea.  From that perspective, I find the painting even more enthralling.

Anton Mauve’s “Morning Ride along the Beach” (1876), Rijksmuseum, The Netherlands

Adjacent to “Children of the Sea” in Rijksmuseum Room 118, I also enjoyed a moment in front of the artwork shown above.  It is called “Morning Ride along the Beach”, and I mistook it for another Jozef Israels masterpiece.  Instead, “Morning…” was painted by Anton Mauve, another Dutch painter of the same era (and Hague School).  “Morning…” provides a contrast to the harsh existence of the poor fishermen of the time, by focusing instead on the “well-to-do bourgeoisie”: horses, elegantly dressed riders, bathing cabins – all on a pastel-colored sunny day.  No souvenir mug with this one, but equally compelling to the eye.

Caravaggio’s “The Calling of Saint Matthew” (1699-1700), Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

Admittedly, the Hague School paintings weren’t the first artwork to stop me in my tracks, nor were they the last.  In my college year of architecture studies in Rome, the Renaissance-era paintings and sculptures were as impressive as the cathedrals that housed them (I could write an entire post on the stunning chiaroscuro works of Caravaggio).  Case in point, I was so taken by the life and work of Michelangelo I read all 700 pages of Irving’s Stone’s fictional biography, “The Agony and the Ecstasy”.

John Dowd’s “Provincetown Summer” (1997), Provincetown, MA



As for my latest artwork pause, my wife and I visited Cape Cod last month, all the way out to Provincetown at the tip.  One of Provincetown’s pier-side shops sold tiles of local artists’ paintings.  The tile above (left) – John Dowd’s depiction of a nearby Provincetown Cape house in 1997 – sits on our fireplace mantle now.  The photo above (right) is how the painter’s subject looks today.

Someday I would love to return to The Netherlands for more adventures, but I assure you my itinerary would not include another trip to the Rijksmuseum.  However, I can’t claim I wouldn’t pause on the sidewalk if I walked past the museum’s massive entrance.  After all, in Room 118 there’s a very small painting, utterly captivating to this non-patron of the arts.

Some content sourced from The Netherlands Rijksmuseum website, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Deutschland-ish Improvements

My wife and I are slowly remodeling our house, a room at a time. First, we took a big plunge and overhauled the kitchen. Then we gutted the master bath. Now we’re thinking about a large deck with indoor/outdoor spaces. But that was before a recent trip to Germany, where we cruised a good stretch of the Rhine. Suddenly “remodeling” takes on a whole new meaning.

Our cruise down the Rhine started in Amsterdam.  Bad idea.  Amsterdam is loaded with the prettiest little canals and bridges outside of Venice.  As we were floating up and down the “city streets” we thought, “let’s put a canal bridge on our property!”  But a canal bridge requires a canal, else you get London Bridge in the middle of the Arizona desert.  So first we’ll be building a canal.

Our next stop on the Rhine kept us in the Netherlands.  We landed briefly in Kinderdjjk, not even a map dot if it wasn’t for some of the most beautiful windmills in the world.  Kinderdijk’s windmills not only pump water; they’re houses.  We must add a windmill to our remodel list!  It would make a unique guest house, and instead of pumping water from our well we’ll just windmill it up to the house from the canal.  You know, the canal we just installed so we could put in a canal bridge.

Once our river boat hit Germany, I knew our remodel was entering uncharted territory.  In Cologne, we walked through one of the most spectacular cathedrals in the world (seven centuries to complete!)  In every Rhine river town we passed there was another cathedral (more likely a church, but over there they all look like cathedrals).  Am I saying I need a cathedral on my property?  Of course not; the neighbors would consider that a little pompous.  But a chapel would be nice.  Something to accommodate a steeple and bell tower as elegant as the ones you find in Germany.  Wouldn’t it be great – calling the family in at dinnertime?  BONG-BONG-BONG!!!

Here’s the other problem with Germany.  Castles.  Big ones.  Little ones.  Intact ones and crumbling ones.  Wherever you look in the Rhine region, you see postcard-perfect towns with castles at their highest points.  I mean, who wouldn’t want a castle on their property, right?  The problem is, here in the flatlands east of the Colorado Rockies, a castle would look, well, compromised.  You’ve got to have your castle sitting higher than everything else (otherwise, how would you lord over your domain?).  Not to mention, castles take centuries to build.  I’d like to be alive when my remodel list is finished.

(Side note: my wife showed a disturbing interest in the castle torture chambers and all their nasty devices.  Either this is lingering effects of watching “50 Shades of Grey” too many times, or I’m in deep trouble.  I’ll have to keep a closer eye on her).

Castles just reminded me about one more thing in Amsterdam.  They love their cobbled streets.  Sometimes they’re perfectly uniform and flat; other times they’re ankle-busters if you’re not careful.  Either way there’s no avoiding the cobbles.  So now my driveway needs a remodel too.  I watched an Amsterdam-ian working to replace the cobbles on one of the bridges (yes, they cobble those too).  It looked like backbreaking work, one heavy stone at a time.  But if I’m going to have all my other Rhine region elements, an asphalt driveway just won’t cut it.

In the southwest of Germany, just before the Rhine flows into Switzerland, you make a stop in Bavaria: land of dense fir trees, Black Forest cake, and cuckoo clocks.  You’d swear you walked into a fairy tale, with Snow White (or Hansel & Gretel, or a hobbit) emerging from the nearest Tudor-style cottage with a smile and some gingerbread.  Fortunately, nothing in Bavaria made it to the remodel list.  I suppose we could plant a forest of firs, but that’s just tempting a large-scale fire and we’ve already had enough of those in Colorado.

Also just before Switzerland, the Rhine passes through several locks; those mechanical wonders raising vessels from the lower river on one side to the higher river on the other.  There’s nothing like watching a lock do its thing while you’re in the lock.  Just when I thought I was done with my remodel list, here come the locks.  What a great way to secure my property!  Raise the driveway higher than the street; then force my visitors to enter through a lock!  On second thought, that’s too much work.  I’ll add another castle element instead – a drawbridge over the canal I installed way back in the second paragraph.

If you think my remodel is brazen (i.e. “Dave, do the deck and call it good”), just you wait.  My list is not quite complete.  Our cruise ended in Switzerland.  OMG.  I repeat, OMG.  How the heck am I going to remodel our property into Little Switzerland?  There’s nothing I wouldn’t tap from this Alpine dreamland: the dairy farms (which means a whole herd of dairy cows), the cheese and chocolate, and some of the prettiest, cleanest lakes in the world.  I’d even recruit a few of the Swiss themselves (as if they’d rather live in Colorado).  Of course, the real problem with recreating Switzerland is those dang gorgeous Alps – snowy caps, grassy meadows, cog railways and all.  Building Alps on my property would require ten billion delivery trucks of dirt and I just can’t afford that.  I’ll settle for gazing at the distant Colorado Rockies instead.

Come to think of it, gazing at the Colorado Rockies requires a deck.  That I can manage.  Let’s put my Deutschland delusion to the side and just start with a deck, shall we?