Detail of Portrait of Aeltje Uylenburg, painted in 1632, when Rembrandt was 26.
Sometimes, yes, the Hub Review makes mistakes (we're partial, however, to self-admitted ones - don't look so shocked). One of those recent errors was putting off until the last minute a visit to Golden, the exhibit of works from the Golden Age of Dutch and Flemish Art at the Peabody Essex Museum - it closes this weekend, which means I won't be able to visit it again, much as I'd like to (and if you do go, expect crowds - don't worry, it's still worth it).
Portrait of a Preacher, by Frans Hals
Much of the show is devoted to the investigation of the many genres - the sea-, land-, and town-scape, the private portrait, the several varieties of still life (flowers, silver, seashells), etc. - that flourished in the rapidly-expanding bourgeois markets of the seventeenth-century "low countries." What's startling about the van Otterloo's collecting, however, is their ability to discern that moment when craft transcends itself, when genre tips over into art - Maes's Sleeping Man Having His Pocket Picked, for instance, all but glows with the spontaneity of a split-second that occurred three hundred years ago, while Dou's simple Sleeping Dog feels mysteriously (yet unostentatiously) timeless.
These two collectors also seem to have been fired by a delightful curiosity in the physical reality of their chosen period, and you leave the exhibit feeling you know life in the Golden Age almost as well as you know your own. In these paintings we see the Dutch at church and at play, at the market and at the doctor's, flirting, skating, dancing - even pooping (Hendrick Avercamp includes an open-air latrine in his wonderful Winter Landscape Near a Village). Indeed, the earthy truths of human life are in evidence in these paintings in a way they had never been before; clearly for the Dutch of the seventeenth century (who in political terms were shaking off the torments of Spanish Catholicism), the spirit can calmly co-exist with the body, and the erotic, religious, and social ego is subject to a constant, if sympathetic, empirical critique.
View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam
There is one question that looms over the show - where is this collection going? The van Otterloos have announced they intend to eventually donate it to the public; but who's going to get it? This exhibit is so striking in part because the collection has been so carefully curated that it already feels like a small museum department (it's worth noting the van Otterloos received advice over the years from mucky-mucks at the Rijksmuseum and the Mauritshuis). Yet despite its kaleidoscopic balance, the collection also has its own personality, and even quirks, if you will; you'd hate to see it broken up, and ideally it should go to a facility with the resources to display most (if not all!) of it coherently. The MFA - which already has a strong, and largely complementary, Northern European department - feels like a natural landing place for it, but could the museum commit the additional gallery space to do the collection justice, and ensure its own identity? (You'd hate to see the Rembrandt on the walls, but the Avercamp in storage.) Clearly the van Otterloos' dazzling success has only set them an even more intriguing aesthetic challenge; I'm hoping they have a few million dollars left over to assist in the construction of a permanent home for the artistic legacy they have created.