24 March 2017
Constable and Gainsborough in Suffolk
There are few things more delightful in life than to spend several English summer days wandering the narrow lanes, following the towpaths or sauntering through the largely unspoilt villages of Suffolk that Gainsborough and Constable knew so well, and which profoundly inspired them both. I first visited the area as an undergraduate some 50 years ago, researching for an essay on ‘Constable and his Country’, and I was astonished to discover how little changed were the sites already so familiar to me from such well-known paintings as The Haywain and Boat-building on the Banks of the Stour.
Boat-building on the Banks of the Stour
With facsimiles of Constable’s tiny sketchbooks in my hand, I quickly discovered that just as many of his drawings were made while he was in the saddle as when he was on foot. Only on horseback could he have seen across the hedgerows to the countryside beyond. Coincidentally, one has almost exactly the same views from the comfort of a modern coach. Some things have inevitably changed. Constable’s parents’ house has long since gone, but two exquisite little pictures in Christchurch Mansion - The Kitchen Garden and The Flower Garden - painted from upstairs rooms, evoke the rural idyll in which he grew up. Surviving nearby is the enchanting little church where he worshipped and his first humble studio. The studio was placed on the market a few decades ago. I still regret not having bought it!
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The Reformed Church in Nuenen
Van Gogh and Mondrian in the Netherlands
On Tuesday of this week, two early paintings by Vincent van Gogh went back on display in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam from which they were stolen 14 years ago – View of the Sea at Scheveningen (his only sea-piece) and The Reformed Church in Nuenen, to which he added the figures only after his father’s death. I am excited at the prospect of seeing them again. I am excited too about returning to the outstanding Vincentre in Nuenen, where the church still stands, and which provides a superb introduction to Vincent’s early work before his departure for Paris and, afterwards, Arles and St Rémy. While the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterloo are renowned for their comprehensive overviews of his all-too brief career, the Noordbrabants Museum in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (like the Vincentre) supplies fascinating insights into his preoccupations while still in his native Netherlands.
Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp
Our visit to The Netherlands is timed to coincide with the long-awaited, largest ever retrospective exhibition in The Hague devoted to another outstanding Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian, billed as a “time-lapse sequence of modern art”. A pioneer in geometrical abstraction, founder member of the De Stijl movement and the principal exponent of Neo-Plasticism, he created such typical works as Broadway Boogie-Woogie and Composition in Red, Yellow and Blue using a framework of accented black vertical and horizontal lines, filled either with primary colours or with mid-greys, black or white. This tour will also include a visit to the recently refurbished Mauritshuis, with several works by Vermeer and Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp.
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Paintings & Palaces of Brunswick & Kassel
This tour, a veritable embarras de richesse, was put on hold pending the reopening after years of restoration and enlargement of the Herzog-Anton-Ulrich-Museum in Brunswick, the oldest of its kind in Germany and one of the country’s finest, boasting incomparable collections of German, Dutch and Flemish paintings, including works by Cranach and Holbein; Rembrandt and Vermeer, Rubens and Van Dyck, and a unique self-portrait by Giorgione. The Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum in Hanover and the Gemäldegalerie in Kassel are also so very rich in European paintings that this tour is bound to appeal to everyone with an interest in the Old Masters.
Castles, fine early churches, palaces and gardens also abound in this region, which lays claim to two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the 1800 half-timbered houses in Goslar nestling at the foot of the Harz Mountains and for 300 years the residence of the Holy Roman Emperors and the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe in Kassel, in whose grounds our second hotel is set, and which boasts pavilions, sculptures and the breath-taking 350-metre long Grand Cascade and Water Theatre.
I was first in this area in my late teens when I attended an International Students’ course in Göttingen, and was so captivated by it all that I spent my entire summer vacation hitch-hiking between the various charming, handsome towns in pursuit of the paintings, sculptures and architecture that would make me an art historian. Those who have happily accompanied me on tours to other parts of Germany (Berlin, Cologne, Dresden, Hamburg, Munich, the Romantic Road) will not want to miss this one!
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The Staatens Museum
Art in Copenhagen
Copenhagen enjoys a deserved reputation for its architectural beauty, the friendliness of its inhabitants and its superlative palaces, parks, museums and art galleries. In 1991 I collaborated with Kasper Monrad on a large Caspar David Friedrich exhibition held at the Staatens Museum in Copenhagen, which examined the strong connections between Friedrich and 18th-century Danish painting and Friedrich’s influence on painters of the Danish Golden Age, on which Kasper is a recognised authority. It was at this time that I fell in love with artists such as Blunck, Eckersberg, Hammershoi, Købke, Krøyer, Lundbye and Rørbye and also got to know better the greatest of Danish sculptors, the internationally revered Berthel Thorvaldsen, to whom a vast museum is dedicated in the city.
The Staatens Museum, the intimate Hirschsprung Collection, the Thorvaldsens Museum and the Ny Carlsberg Glypthothek are all rich in Danish Golden Age painters and the art of the influential Skagen School. Together, they provide an unrivalled opportunity to see the crème de la crème of these captivating artists, many of whom capture supremely in their work the characteristic Nordic light. The Staatens Museum also has very rich holdings of European Old Master and modern paintings, while the Carlsberg Glyptothek specialises in later 19th-century painting and sculpture.
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To learn more about each of these tours please click on the corresponding link below.
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