April 12th, 2013



I collected stamps when I was a boy. I think most boys did. Later, in the 1970s, I started collecting US commemoratives. In the 1980s, strapped for cash, I took my collection to a dealer and he told me it was worthless.

I was never a serious collector. I didn't concern myself with misprints and rarities and all that stuff. Serious collectors despise modern commemoratives and think too many are issued in too great numbers. My attitude is we're talking about little coloured labels you stick on envelopes.

In Mourning

We're approaching the anniversary of Eric's death and Ailz's mother is feeling it. She reproaches herself for not keeping him alive- as you do.  Ailz has seen her every day this week but is giving today a miss because she's exhausted. Yesterday morning they went to the Crem to put a rose in a vase by Eric's flowerbed. 

The High Art of The Low Countries

Frans Hals: Governers of the Old Men's Alm's House, Haarlem

Andrew Graham-Dixon has been given 3 hours to talk about the art of the Low Countries. It's not long enough. Last night we had the entire Golden Age of Dutch painting. Hals, Rembrandt and Vermeer flew by. Last week we had the whole of Flemish art from Van Eyck to Rubens.

Any Dutch art is better than no Dutch art, but Rembrandt, for example, is just too big a figure to be dealt with in ten minutes. We got the Night Watch, Julius Civilis and some portraits, but no Biblical paintings, nudes, landscapes or etchings. Graham-Dixon did a grand job placing the art in its historical and social context, but I found myself fretting at time wasted on sequences of him cycling through bulb fields or eating at canal-side restaurants. Yes, Holland is very pretty, but the paintings are what we're here for.

It was good to be reminded just what a wonderful painter Hals is. The 19th century valued him as highly as Rembrandt, then his stock fell. It's time he was reinstated.

A sobering thought; Hals, Rembrandt and Vermeer all died skint.

A Dutch Breakfast

I'm browsing through galleries of Dutch Golden Age art. This chap, Willem Claeszoon Heda, specialized in painting breakfast. I guess it's hard to put a man who only painted breakfast in the same exalted category as Rembrandt and Vermeer but, even so, isn't this a fabulous piece of work! I want some of that pie.

Many still life paintings have a certain melancholy about them- an element of the Vanitas. Your breakfast is transitory; it will not come again; you can't have your pie and eat it.

Vanity Of Vanities

And here's an out and out Vanitas- by Pieter Claesz. The lamp has guttered out, the glass is empty, the watch is ticking away, the book is written and closed.

Jacob Vrel: Woman At A Window

 This has to be one of the strangest, most haunting images in Dutch art. It was the revelation of the Fitzwilliam's 2011-12  exhibition Vermeer's Women. Who or what is the child at the window? Dutch genre pictures generally explain themselves through symbol- a lap dog means fidelity- a cast shoe means abandoned virtue- but there's none of that here....