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Posts tagged ‘Amsterdam’

Norms do… Amsterdam’s Red Light District

Before I had even booked my trip to Amsterdam, I couldn’t help but plan a Norm representation of what must be Amsterdam’s most renowned attraction: its red light district. Some people see Norms as being child-friendly. This painting may persuade them otherwise. Here Norms are dressed in sex head to…err…round base, with lacey bras, thongs and other revealing lingerie. On their hands, acrylic nails to tap against the glass windows help them to attract the attention of their shy customers, while heavy makeup and perfectly coiffed hair complete a carefully manicured look. As for the customers, they come from all walks of life. Here is a business man, skulking away from work, hoping for a “quickie” before he goes home to his affluent home, his wife and children. There too is a sailor, desperate after weeks away at sea for a lady’s touch. And finally we have the Norm chav, covered in tattoos and a dirty vest – he can’t afford these classy scarlet women of the night, but he can stare, and wish.

Norms in Amsterdam's Red Light District (2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

The canvas is a box canvas, so I have painted around the sides to feature more buildings, and a few more of those lovely ladies. You can see the sides, and some detailed shots of the canvas below. Enjoy!


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2005-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Daily Sketch: Norms in Amsterdam

When I don’t have time to paint, I try to sketch – at least once a day. I used to sketch a lot in my diaries which I have been keeping for 16 years. I still do in fact. But nowadays, my priority is to sketch on little cards which I hope one day to exhibit as a whole, or at least hang them collectively in my hall. In a week which may well include a few sketches (time permitting), I’m reliving last week’s Amsterdam trip through my Norms, keen not to let go of the memories of that trip which remain so strong and leave me caught in daydreams throughout the day, thinking of clogs, and canals, and those pesky cyclists. Here are Norms visiting Amsterdam. Now I’m going to ponder how a Norm would wear clogs. More on that later in the week.

Norms touring Amsterdam (pen on paper, 2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Amsterdam Part V: Photographs

It’s my last Amsterdam post after four wonderful days in the city, and a couple of days reflection from my home in London, and probably my favourite of the bunch as I get to share with you my photographs of the trip. Amsterdam wasn’t always easy to photograph – when walking around, one is constantly wowed by the beauty of one canal after another, but what inspires at the time can be repetitive when the result is one canal shot after another. I’m hoping that in the selection I have posted, you will get to see more than just canals, although as ever, my obsession with street lamps continues throughout this bunch of photos. I only had my cybershot with me, leaving my bulkier SLR at home, but I’m pretty pleased with some of the resulting shots. It certainly wasn’t hard to be inspired by Amsterdam, even when the sun went in I was won over by beauty at every corner – so much so that it was hard not to have my camera permanently glued to my face. I will let the photos do the talking now and hope that you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed taking them. Wishing you all a great weekend.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2005-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Amsterdam Part IV: The Hotel and the Restaurants

Fresh flowers and chandeliers in the Hotel Estheréa

I’m back from Amsterdam and pretty fed up about it. I find myself crossing the road looking out obsessively for cyclists and finding none. Here, the now familiar bong of the tram bell has been replaced by sirens, and these light filled transport carriages are superseded by the claustrophobic moving coffins of the London Underground. I look at buildings, thinking that something is wrong – then I realise that beneath them there is no reflection. But it’s always been my firm belief that part of the success of a holiday is how well you remember it. Consequently I have set about looking through and editing my prodigious collection of photographs, sorting through the postcards I buy obsessively whenever I go on holiday (with no intention to ever write, or send any) and recollecting the food experiences which filled by Amsterdamian days. With this in mind, I write today in an attempt to share my experience of the restaurants, and more importantly my accommodation while in Amsterdam.  As I’ve said before, in this time of the vindictive TripAdvisor professional complainant, where countless businesses in the hospitality industry are closing down because of picky, negative reviews posted online like school yard insults, I think it is only appropriate that a good experience is also applauded online, and shared so that fellow jetsetters can head off to a recommended restaurant or hotel, emboldened by some honest advice to temper their expectations.

Exterior of the Hotel Estheréa

The hotel – Hotel Estheréa **** – Singel 303-9, Amsterdam

I could use almost every superlative in the thesaurus to describe the Hotel Estheréa and still not do it justice. This hotel, a child of the boutqiue revolution, but also the mother of all opulent sophistication, was a faultessly exquisite base for our Amsterdam stay. The reason, ultimately, for the success of this hotel is attention to detail. In the bedroom, two bottles of water would be provided free to guests everyday – a small thing, but often something which you really feel the need of at the end of a heavy evening and have to revert to what ever dodgyness flows from the tap. In the foyer, tea and coffee is provided all day, a huge range of teas being on offer, and complimentary cakes, biscuits, sweets and multivarious nibbles in retro glass jars. In the various reception rooms, the interior design is stunningly executed with an emphaisis on rejuvinated Victorian elegance – richly patterened wallpapers, huge low hanging chandeliers, various species of taxdermy under closhes and in frames, large damask covered arm chairs, a book-lined library and an array of fresh flowers embuing the air with their fragrance, single stems in collected ecclectic vases and huge bouquets greeting guests in the reception.

Our bedroom at the Hotel Estheréa

Head for the gold and glass lift to the rooms upstairs and you will find a range of bedrooms decorated in an impressive range of different schemes. Ours was a luxuriously drapped room in the roof – spacious, lined with a lavish chinese themed wallpaper of blues and gold, a sinfully comfortable bed loaded with embroidered cushions and a throw shot with blue and gold silk, and a stunning view looking over the Singel canal – one of the principal canals lined with the grand townhouses of former traders and merchants. Admittedly not all rooms benefit from a canal view, and you do have to pay more for the privilege. But I think it’s well worth it – and the premium is not much for the pleasure it provides. Finally the breakfast, while not cheap (18 euros per person) is the perfect set-me-up for the day, including champagne, cooked and continental selections and, best of all, various little pastries and cakes which look like they walked straight out of a Parisian patisserie. Finally I should mention location – it’s perfect, pretty much equidistant from all the main points of interest, so that Anne Frank’s house, the central station, the rosy red lights and the museum district are all within walking distance (though you need stamina – but there’s always that complimentary hotel tea to sustain you when the walking gets to much).

Main foyer in the Hotel Estheréa

Breakfast at the Hotel Estheréa

Lavish design at the Hotel Estheréa

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Amsterdam Part III: Flemish art, Russian museum, Dutch hospitality

It was our last day in Amsterdam today, city of the silent assassins otherwise known as cyclists. Bicycles are everywhere here, chained to every bridge, every bollard, every railing, stacked and double stacked against every conceivable surface of the city – no wonder the bicycle has become emblematic of Amsterdam. It is clear too that the city authorities have actively encouraged this cyclist boom. Given over to cyclists are designated cycling lanes and crossings aplenty, but alongside these are normal roads and tram lines, as well as bizarre junctions where roads meet bridges, and I find myself walking around in a confused daze as to where I should be crossing the road and where I should be walking – there are plenty of cycle lanes, fewer pavements. It doesn’t of course help that cyclists here routinely ignore red lights, so the dutch green man roughly translates into: you can cross, by at your peril. Then you must navigate the roads with every sense attuned to your surroundings, since these bicycles are not only plentiful in number, but deathly silent in sound. Consequently I have narrowly avoided collisions with cyclists at least once every hour of my stay in Amsterdam, as cyclists, travelling at great speed, seem to come at me completely out of the blue. Of course the cyclists must be praised for keeping the town a lot fresher, and I particularly like the parents who cycle around with their children in a special basket at the front. Not sure how all these people get away with out wearing helmets though… I haven’t seen once since I arrived.

Anyway, once we had negotiated a series of cycle lanes, perilous junctions and even a bridge which opened to allow the longest barge through that I have ever seen, we eventually made it to the final stop on our Amsterdam cultural map: The Hermitage Amsterdam.

The Hermitage is the Amsterdam annex of the St Petersburg giant. The museum, which was first opened in 2004 and was the result of the apparent close historical bonds between Russia and the Netherlands, aims to show a revolving selection of works from the main Hermitage collection, works which would otherwise be relegated into storage alongside thousands of other gems of Catherine the Great’s amassed collection. The works are then displayed in a stunning new gallery space which opened in 2009. This former hospital has been renovated to an indubitably high standard. Large marbled floor space is flanked with spotlessly painted walls. Windows overlooking the sunny canals are partially blacked out but allow sufficient light to flood the spacious rooms. Glass stairs lead from the main galleries to a mezzanine level, and the museum cafe exudes New York hotel chic. Most importantly of all, the paintings appear to glow beneath all-enhancing LED lighting technology, and works are hung with sufficient surrounding space so as not to overwhelm.

Rubens, Descent from the Cross c.1617-18 (© State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg)

The current showing focuses on Flemish giants Rubens, Van Dyke and Jordaens, a show which has in fact proved so popular that its orignally planned run has been extended by three months. No wonder, since the collection on show is pretty stunning and enticing in equal measure. So often I look at masterpieces of the Golden Age with a blank stare, overwhelmed often by the detail of the depiction, or more often than not, by the vast numbers of such paintings squeezed side by side in repetitious national collections such as the Louvre or London’s National Gallery. But with the luxury of this focused show in a new airy art space came the opportunity to admire the astonishing talent of these master artists, such as the sumptuous folds of material against the musculature of Christ in Rubens’ Descent from the Cross, and the small details of sea shells or guinea pigs in The Union of Earth and Water by Rubens and Venus and Cupid by Hendrick Van Balen. While the contemporary movement of artistic trends seemed to focus progressively on the introspection of an artist, with these Flemish masterpieces, the intention was to wow, show off and astonish. The works succeed on these fronts, whether through the breadth of their sheer dimension or in the painterly skill of the intricate still lives. They are no less meritorious because they do not attest to the tortured soul of the artist, nor are they any less worthy of our attention. Through skill and insightful allegorical symbolism, these works are capable of transforming the audience into another world, to educate, and also, in the case of portraits, to immortalise people and lives for future generations. Sorry Van Gogh, but today Rubens beat you.

Rubens, The Union of Earth and Water c.1618-21 (© State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg)

Hendrick van Balen, Venus and Cupid (1600) (© State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg)

So leaving this impressive artistic institution (having been severely slighted in said chic cafe which was half reserved for some as yet unpresented favoured group leaving no space for our discerning custom), it was nearly time to wave adieu to this watery wonderland of Amsterdam. A quick stroll through the charismatic university quarter and the bustling shopping streets led us back to our hotel from where we headed, regretfully towards the station. Our walk back, past those elegant town houses, flanked by the transient reflections of Amsterdam in its canals, where red lights were being switched on for an evening’s work, and where familys and friends cycled energetically and happily over bridges and through the city’s quieter streets, served as a reminder of what a multifaceted city Amsterdam is, but also one where life seems a little more laid back, a little less tense, a sensation perhaps created by the water flowing like lifeblood throughout the city, bringing reflection, light and a fresh breeze to all.

Goodbye Amsterdam and thanks for a superb city break. Faithful Daily Norm readers – thanks for reading about my trip and therefore sharing the experience with me – come back tomorrow for all of my restaurant/ hotel reviews and on Friday for my photos!

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Amsterdam Part II: Insight into two masters of introspection: Van Gogh and Anne Frank

That familiar pang in my legs and feet, pulsing with a heavy burning sensation, is always a good sign at the end of a day spent exploring a new city. It tends to signify a heavy day’s sightseeing and usually a substantial intake of cultural enrichment… Galleries and museums are deceptively exhausting. Why hasn’t anyone invented a gallery on a conveyor belt, whereby the viewer takes a cinema-like reclining seat, and lets the art do the moving? Awaiting this invention, as we must, I nevertheless ensured that my second day in Amsterdam took in the remaining cultural hot points, despite the considerable walking distance between them.

The Bedroom (1888)

Almond Blossom (1890)

First on the list was the all important Van Gogh museum, which delivered masterpieces aplenty in a purpose built, airy space which more than catered for the influx of visitors present. Oh what a contrast to the last time I saw some of these works, at the Royal Academy’s Van Gogh exhibition, when all semblance of civility was lost somewhere around the Dutch peasant paintings, leading to all out war between Royal Academy Friends and foes alike as we scrambled to peak a view at Van Gogh’s chair or his whimsical poplars, not to mention get within an inch of that all important blood stained last letter to Theo. No, no, here one could more or less flit between paintings without too much fuss, leaving each room fully satisfied by the breadth of work on show, the logical chronological ordering of the works, and the provision of one masterpiece after another: The Potato Eaters, the Yellow House, Van Gogh’s bedroom, Gauguin’s chair, the Sunflowers and so on. I also left a little more informed about his technique. He had not adopted this often clumsy, thickly layered style of painting because of any lack of skill. Rather, he had been heavily influenced by the trends of Paris at that time, where pointillism had taken over from Impressionism, and figurative works were becoming more and more symbolic and abstracted. He was also influenced by Japanese art, with its flat, two dimensional representation and black outlines. By contrast, his first efforts – in which he concentrated on peasant portraits and bucolic landscapes – on the back of an absence of any professional training whatsoever, were really quite impressive. It seems he really did have naturally inherent talent, and plenty of it too.

I was of course thrilled to see the original of The Potato Eaters, which inspired me to paint my own family portrait last year. I was however rather frustrated that the work was displayed behind highly reflective glass which did no service to its dark, muddy shades, which were almost indistinguishable behind the glossy glare. None of the works were in fact that well lit, and the museum ought to take a leaf out of the Musee d’Orsay’s book in Paris, where new lighting set against dark blue walls makes the Van Gogh works glow beautifully.

Wheatfield with Crows (1890)

From one, forever active, always creative but troubled mind, to the youthful introspection of a girl in times of trouble – Anne Frank, whose house, always the site of long spiralling queues, we left until late to avoid the tourist crush. This we did with relative success, waiting only around 5 minutes to enter. Once inside, the excellent fusion of multimedia presentation with the old house still intact made for an effortless narrative, but did rather clog up the small space with tourists, most of whom would stay frozen to the spot until they had heard every word of the various video clips on show. This was particularly prevalent in the small annex itself, where Anne Frank, her family and four friends of the family, we’re hidden away for two years during the Nazi occupation of Holland. There, in tiny rooms and even tinier, almost vertical staircases, the tourist cram was uncomfortable, but served to emphasise how horrifically claustrophobic it must have been for the 8 persecuted Jews hidden away in these rooms without daylight and being unable to make any noise. Being able to walk through these rooms, still dressed in their original decor, Anne’s pictures of hollywood icons and even the British Queen and her sister pasted onto the walls, made for an intense and emotional experience, far more so than in a museum full of facts and figures.

Bookcase hiding the entrance to the Frank annex

So two of Amsterdam’s great minds have been explored and all that remains is a hot bath to sooth my now fizzing feet, plenty of tea and then dinner. Last night’s dinner, at a romantic art nouveau inspired canal-side brasserie, De Belhamel, was not entirely successful. We were rather pleased, at first, to have been seated up on the mezzanine, with a commanding view over the restaurant and the canal beyond. This advantage soon turned sour when, somewhat topped up with wine, I waved my arm enthusiastically, only to then knock my full wine glass off the edge of the balcony, whereupon it bounced off one railing before shattering, ceremoniously, across the entire ground floor of the restaurant, spraying several tables with its contents. After the crash came the complete shocked silence of the whole restaurant, and suddenly all eyes were on our little table up on the mezzanine. Oh the embarrassment. Oh the mortification. Oh the utmost humiliation. Needless to say, I insouciantly helped myself to more wine before taking a measured but fast retreat from the restaurant. Possibly won’t be returning there in a while.

Amsterdam Part I: Red Lights and the Rijksmuseum

Flying to Amsterdam yesterday afternoon, it dawned on me how close the city is to London. Barely were we up in the air than we began our descent again. Yet as far as the two cities go, Amsterdam is another world. With all the charm of an old Vermeer painting, town houses line the canals side by side like ballroom beauties jostling for attention. Row after row of consistently elegant canals are uninterrupted by the blot of modernity, while in the canals a near perfect reflection provides a mirrored second city interspersed with ducks and houseboats. I love the way some of the houses lean forward (allegedly to hoist objects to the upper floors rather than brave narrow staircases) and others are formed of slanting, crooked windows, doors and roofs… In Amsterdam it’s hard to find a regular angle anywhere.

Vermeer, The Milkmaid (De Melkmeid) c 1658-1661

No wonder it left me feeling dizzy this morning. Or perhaps that dizziness was testament to our first tourist stop last night… The red light district. Now I know, heading straight to the sexy sector borders on the cliche, but as we arrived in the evening, and had time of our hands after dinner, a trip to the red lights seemed the obvious choice. At first we couldn’t find it. Catching sight of a red glow in the distance, we headed towards them only to find they were the neon lights of a pub. Ready almost to give up, we stumbled upon a tiny narrow alleyway also glowing red. Full of anticipation we crept down and suddenly, my heart skipped a beat as we came across a woman, in black laced underwear, leaning against the glass of a doorway, touching herself. Being ever the modest kind of male, I wasn’t sure where to look! It was so surreal to be faced so unapologetically with this display of sexual advancement. This initial alleyway opened up into a labyrinth of scarlet tinted shop fronts. There were countless prostitutes, someone for everyone, fat, thin, big breasts, small breasts, all on show. It became quite intimidating when, walking past a whole row, you’d hear plastic nails tapping on the window, gesticulating that you should approach. At the same time it was a fascinating display. The women each posed differently, some smiled, some scowled “seductively”. Some were coy, others all out sluttish. I felt almost embarrassed that I was treating them as a tourist attraction when they vied so hard for my attention, but they were certainly busy. We saw numerous gentlemen walking in and out, curtains of each window being pulled shut when the lady was busy, open again when a client left with a satisfied smile.

So in the end, after the initial collision course with this advanced outward show of sexual wares, I found the district enriching, adding to the Amsterdam experience. However I felt sorry for some of the ladies who were often faced with aggressive, loutish customers. And it was this element of the area that appalled – groups of men, often english thugs, ogling at the women right up in their faces, throwing insults, banging on the glass, showing outright aggression and a complete lack of respect to these women as human beings. Perhaps, after all, this is a problem with legalising prostitution. In allowing the profession to be advertised so publicly, it encourages men to so easily exploit the situation, to commodify women, to treat them as subhuman.

Red lights were superseded by the glow of a bright winter sunshine as we embarked on our first morning in the city today. Leaving our chic boutique base (the wonderful Hotel Estherea) to wander the western canals, we enjoyed coffee by one picturesque canal, and pancakes with banana, bacon and syrup by another. All canals led to the Rijksmuseum, which, despite undergoing major restoration works, has opened it’s most prominent masterpieces to the public in a very polished modern extension to the rear. The collection on show was still vast in breadth and I rather enjoyed the fact that this was a select exhibition – if this is only a small portion, the whole collection must be vast, and exhausting. Instead, we got to see all the important works, while retaining sufficient energy to get back go to the hotel. This included Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, which is romantic in a haze of dreamy light floating through a townhouse window onto the calm woman dressed in rich yellows and blue. The light and shade of Rembrandt’s masterpiece, The Nigh Watch, was even more dramatic, and the vast work was suitably installed as the climax of this impressive show.

Rembrant: The Night Watch (1642)

As the sun goes down over a chilly bustling city, the refinement of the city’s cultural offerings will again make way for the emergence of its prominent underworld. Staying open at all hours however are the multitude of souvenir shops, the likes of which we just sampled in their plenty at the Bloemenmarkt (flower market). We weren’t overly impressed with the rows of multicoloured clogs, wooden tulips, ceramic windmills or magnets of whores in windows (not one, I think, for my grandmother’s magnet collection) but not to be left out, I walked away with a pair of soft clog-shaped slippers ready to comfort my feet after a first thorough days navigation of Amsterdam. Sure beats the wooden kind. See you tomorrow!

Dutch Masters Season Part 1: Van Gogh

Its atmospheric canals may be frozen (or perhaps now melting?), its wooden clogs uncomfortable on the feet, and its multi-coloured fields of tulips yet to burst into life, but Holland has so much to offer, especially to art lovers like myself. I’m not overly familiar with the Netherlands – I went once on a geography field trip at school, when we concentrated on the art of land reclamation and urban morphology, but it has always saddened me that I never had time to appreciate the cosmopolitan, thriving city of Amsterdam and all its multifaceted cultural offerings. This weekend, all that will change, as the Daily Norm will head to Amsterdam and hopefully posts bursting with accounts of the great city, its art and its buzzing life will swiftly follow. In anticipation of this exciting event, the Daily Norm is happy to launch the Dutch Masters Season, a three-part series looking at masters of Dutch art, as well as Norm reinterpretations of three Dutch masterpieces. This will be followed by a Sunday Supplement examining the influence of a particular Dutch supremo on a family portrait I created in 2010, and then my trip to Amsterdam will explode onto your screens in a (hopefully) spectacular fashion.

So, without further ado, let us begin this brief cultural survey of Dutch artists with this feature on a painter who is without a doubt the most famous Dutch master of them all… the indomitable sunflower-loving, paint-eating, ear-lopping saviour of colour, Vincent Van Gogh.

What can be said about Van Gogh that hasn’t been said before? A couple of years ago we got a huge anthology containing translations of his numerous letters, allowing us an invaluable insight into the artist’s sensitive, insightful mind. Last year, a new biography was published, sensationally claiming that rather than killing himself, as is the fabled (and much romanticised) tale, he was quite probably killed in a tragic accident involving local children playing with a gun. Every year some weighty international art institution holds a retrospective of his work, and chocolate boxes, t-shirts and mouse mats containing starry nights, sunflowers or a green faced portrait with decisive brush strokes and vibrant colours fly off the shelves of souvenir shops all over the world. So of course there isn’t much left to say. But where there is renown, let a Norm refresh. Where Van Gogh bandages his ear, let a Norm bandage his face. Yes, I give you, in the style of Van Gogh, Norm with a bandaged face…

Norm with a bandaged face (after Van Gogh) (acrylic on canvas, 2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

And the original…

Vincent Van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889, Courtauld Institute of Art, London)

So why did this particular Van Gogh work inspire me? (After all, there are countless Van Gogh portraits to chose from, as well as a number of portraits of the local postman, the doctor, Gaughin’s chair and the like). Well to start with, this painting lives close to home for me, part of the wonderful collection of London’s Courtauld Institute, where more often than not, you can get this portrait, as with many of the other impressionist masterpieces in the collection, all to yourself, while Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, kept down the road at the National Gallery, is surrounded by a permanent semi-circle of tourists and school groups. But then there’s the bandaged ear, which is after all emblematic of the legend that is Van Gogh.

Van Gogh: souvenir hell

It happened one dark night in December 1888. Paul Gauguin, the tumultuous Tahiti-loving artist was staying with Van Gogh in the Yellow House in Arles, Provence. They argued savagely and Van Gogh came at Gauguin with a knife. At the last minute he turned on himself, cut a chunk out of his ear, and attempted to gift it to a local prostitute who sensibly alerted the authorities thus probably saving Van Gogh from bleeding to death. This painting, one of two containing the bandage (and therefore suitably amplifying the tale), was painted a month later in the comparable calm of post-cataclysmic reflection, with Gauguin gone, and Van Gogh all alone, once again, staring in the mirror in contemplation.

Vincent Van Gogh, Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (1888, Neue Pinakothek, Munich)

For me, it’s the perfect Van Gogh, because it gives us snippets of everything he represents. Broad, almost vibrating brush strokes expressing the rawness of his emotions, and the vigour and haste with which he sought to express his feelings on the canvas. A colour palette which is bold, unforgiving, almost happy despite the downbeat subject portrayed. On the wall hangs a japanese print, a recognition of the great influence of Japonisme in his work, while to his right, an easel and canvas is in progress – here I have used a bit of good old artistic licence, adding the sunflowers which are so equally emblematic of Van Gogh – just in case you weren’t immediately sure who I was referencing with this painting! In this way, the warmth of Provence contrasts with the coldness of winter portrayed in the artist’s thick coat and strange furry hat, an outfit which appears to isolate Van Gogh from the viewer, enveloping him in a melancholy introspection which is shared with the audience only through the piercing gaze of his sickly green eyes.

Well there you have it – and it looks like I had a lot to say after all. For me, Van Gogh is a master. Sometimes his works are criticised for being overly loose, coarsely painted and unsophisticated. But you only have to look at his early portraits of peasants, such as his saturnine masterpiece, The Potato Eaters, to recognise his skill as a draftsman. Rather his coarse, thick application of paint allowed him to paint fast, and this was crucial in allowing him to express his vigorous and volatile emotions on canvas, as and when they moved him. And it is this living, breathing, unforgiving emotional intensity which remains so evident in his canvases today in every decisive and quivering brush stroke, capturing audiences and inspiring biographers and curators aplenty, whether it be through sunflowers, cypress trees or in the sorrowful eyes of his many self-portraits. This is why, to my mind, Van Gogh is a true Dutch master.

Van Gogh, The Potato Eaters (1885, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)

Come back tomorrow for Dutch Master number 2.

Postscript: In case you were wondering, no, Norms don’t have ears, but that doesn’t mean that this Van Gogh pretender couldn’t have inflicted a grizzly wound on himself in the same general area!