Composition with red, black, yellow, blue &grey; Piet Mondriaan
Thoughts on visiting some Dutch museums


On my recent visit to the Netherlands I had the pleasure of visiting two of my home-country’s best museums. I gave Amsterdam a wide berth this time round, but in between seeing family and friends we managed to visit the Gemeente Museum in The Hague, and the Kröller-Müller Museum near Arnhem. They were most enjoyable and inspiring, both having a large collection of early 20th Century modern painting as well as contemporary art and, in the case of the Kröller-Müller, an excellent sculpture garden.


The Kröller-Müller stands out because it holds the second largest collection of Vincent van Gogh paintings in the world, and the Gemeente Museum of The Hague holds the largest collection of Piet Mondriaan’s  (or Mondrian)  radical abstracts. But besides these gems we were able to enjoy, as happy as pigs in ****, the works of artists as diverse as Redon, Cezanne, Seurat, Toorop, Gris, Severini, De Chirico, Léger, Nicholson etc.


And these were just the two museums’ own collections!


I have to admit to ignoring a small Damian Hirst exhibit in the Gemeente Museum, but what stood out for me was that, whilst “modern” ( as in representing Western art’s journey from literalism, historicism and romanticism to pure abstraction) there appeared to be a focus still on aesthetics. Aesthetics (things relating to beauty) are of course extremely difficult to define, but I think it is fair to say that artists up to Piet Mondriaan and Malevitch and Rothko (the travelling Rothko exhibition was a highlight of the Gemeente Museum) were very interested in aesthetics, even if in unconventional ways.


Artists such as Duchamps, Schwitters, Kokoschka and many more that followed had other concerns, be they to shock, to advocate revolution, or promote reflection, but aesthetics wasn’t their main concern.  There is nothing wrong in that, but it does feel that to be interested in aesthetics in art has become not just circumspect in art colleges and amongst art prize panellists but just not done.  In the process the modern art establishment runs the risk of being just as conservative as the 19th Century know-it-alls who condemned the first independent Impressionist exhibition.


Anyway, we enjoyed our trip through 20th Century European art spread over two Dutch museum enormously, and I hope it will inspire me in my practice for a long time to come.


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