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Painting in the Dutch Golden Age at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

On view until February 12th (and, incidentally, the last stop on the national tour) is Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection, one of the four part series, Life and Luxury: the Art of Living at the MFAH. Paintings produced in Seventeenth century Holland and Belgium during the period known as the Dutch Golden Age are marked by a radiant luminosity not seen since the 16th century Venetian masters. Through the use of glazes (applications of translucent oil paint) and light, they achieve an almost ethereal quality rarely seen in art. This glowing, reflective aspect is such a strong characteristic of early modern Dutch art that one of the most famous Dutch artists of the Renaissance, Jan van Eyck, was accredited with inventing the medium of oil paint. This was only recently proven to be false.

Another key component to these artworks are the artists’ attention to surface texture and minute detail. In the sixty paintings on view at the exhibition, including one of Rembrandt’s, these virtuosic talents are on display. The diversity of genres: land and seascapes, portraits and still lifes all contain these features that take us beyond the subject matter as we enter a world of tactility and serene, aesthetic pleasure.

Beyond their technical skill, they have a certain quiet beauty. They are understated in their elegance and the relatively small scale of the majority of these works creates an air of intimacy that accentuates this quietude. These characteristics can be readily appreciated by those who feel emotionally drained by the loud, overt, one might venture to say (at times) garish artwork of the modern era of Western art. Think Grace Kelly versus Anna Nicole Smith.