Salem: At Home With The Masters
“Shh,” the well-dressed woman with a finger to her lips cautions as she stealthily approaches the man asleep in his chair. A self-satisfied look plays on her face as she dips her hand into his jacket pocket. She need have no concern. From the pitcher and glass on the crimson tablecloth, it appears that he has passed out from too much drink and is not likely to awaken.
“Sleeping Man Having His Pockets Picked” was painted around 1655 by Nicolaes Maes, a student of Rembrandt. The oil on board genre scene is one of almost seventy masterpieces on view – portraits, still lifes, landscapes, sea paintings, and furniture – in “Golden: Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection.” The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), Salem, organized and is hosting the exhibition through June 19 when it begins a national tour.
The van Otterloos now reside in Marblehead and Naples, Florida, but she was born in Belgium and he in The Netherlands. About two decades ago when they started their collection, they followed the sage advice to specialize in the paintings of their native countries. They were familiar with the art and knew the language and, therefore, had an advantage in researching primary sources.
The couple concentrated on 17th century paintings, the Dutch Golden Age, a period when the Netherlands enjoyed a boom time as a shipping power and mercantile center as well as leadership in science and the arts. In contrast to most of Europe, the Dutch enjoyed religious freedom, which attracted great innovators in trade, science, and the arts.
The Dutch avoided ostentation. No flashy jewelry for them, no ostentatious mansions. They used their wealth to commission fine paintings, often portraits, by such artists as Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jacob van Ruisdael, Jan Brueghel the Elder, and others. They also enjoyed pictures of the sea, landscapes, and genre paintings of ordinary activities like ice skating on a pond in winter. They displayed these on the walls in their homes. Like the original collectors almost 400 years ago, the Otterloos, too, enjoy their collection at home.
The Golden Age paintings are lush and beautiful. Imagine the pleasure of living with Gerrit Dou’s appealingly rendered “Sleeping Dog” or the perpetual spring of Dutch flower paintings like “Glass Vase With Flowers On a Stone Ledge” by Jan Davidsz de Heem and “Still Life with Roses in a Glass Vase” by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder. Surely, the word “gorgeous” was coined for this kind of art.
The prize of the collection is, without a doubt, the stunning “Portrait of Aeitje Uylenburgh,” painted in 1632 by the 26-year-old Rembrandt. The sensitive lines etching her face, the delicate lace of her cap, and the luxurious fabric of her dress reveal as much about the talent of the artist as the life of the sitter.
The van Otterloos believe that it is a collector’s responsibility to share. From time to time they’ve lent works to museums, including the Mauritshuis in The Hague. This exhibition at PEM, however, is the first time that the entire collection is being shown together.
Concentrating on the highest quality works in excellent condition – a good rule for any collector -- the van Otterloos managed to assemble what some critics rank as the finest private collection of 17th century Dutch and Flemish art.
The dark wood furniture of the period is massive and often covered with expertly carved religious figures. The oak and honey cabinet in the first gallery of the exhibition, for example, is substantial, just the sort of chest one might expect to find in the home of a pious businessman. It bears silent witness to hard-earned wealth.
Several special programs are scheduled in conjunction with “Golden: Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection.” To schedule a visit to coincide with these programs, most of which are included with admission, check out the PEM web site: PEM. Org.
Also, pick up the handsome dark green brochure with a white rose pictured on the cover at the ticket desk. It’s a map of the museum highlighting related exhibits that explore Dutch art and culture.
An exhibition catalogue is available in hardcover and paperback.