Archive for the 'Figurative Art' Category


May 16, 2009 in Figurative Art

In my previous post, called Museum visists, I was musing about Frans Hals’ great work “The Regentesses of the Holy Spirit House”. I couldn’t find any info on this painting online, so I went to a library to get some non-virtual (as seen from a web-addict’s point of view) information. I got a large, bulky book on Hals in which there is no mention of the painting.

Time to say DUH!

Then I saw a black&white pic of a painting that was quite similar to the painting I saw in the Frans Hals museum. It was painted by Johannes Verspronck. I already knew Johannes from my recent visit to Hals. I saw his portrait of a priest whose name I don’t remember. I have no beef with priests, but this particular individual served as a model for a portrait that’s the most scary artwork I’ve ever seen. Verspronk renders the man as a dark, shrewd and eminently political figure.

Portrait of Willemina van Braeckel

Portrait of Willemina van Braeckel

A similar effect, although far less ominous and menacing than in the before-mentioned portrait, can been seen in the image on the left. The reason why Verspronck is so much less famous than Hals becomes obvious. While Hals was a dreadful flatterer (meaning he did his utmost to make his portraits in such a way that the model would feel flattered), Verspronck was a ruthless portraitist of truth, the most ruthless I have seen. I have no idea what kind of man Verspronck was. Actually one of his paintings is very famous.

Girl in Blue

Girl in Blue

It’s the one below, a very expressive and brilliant portrait that is hardly unsettling. I knew the painting, but had never heard of Verspronck. Shame on me or on the art experts that undervalue Verspronck. The thing is, as a psychological portraitist Verspronck was better (still) than Rembrandt and as good as Leonardo da Vinci. While Leonardo was ruthless in rendering the indifference and superficiality of people, he still seemed to be quite cheery about their character. But Verspronck showed every niche in human nature, good and bad.

Portrait of Woman

Portrait of Woman

The painting below shows Verspronck’s enormous talent, such a sublte and gripping portrait it is.
I have to assume “The Regentesses of the Holy Spirit House” was painted by Verspronck (but I’m still not sure, but will when the Hals museum opens tomorrow). Whoever made it, it’s one of the most beautiful and brilliant paintings I’ve seen so far.
Last week I visited the Rijksmuseum, as said, where I saw The Nightwatch. Pretty nifty painting, but in essence a failed composition. In his successful works Rembrandt was able to produce a very tight composition in which every element interacts with another in a deliberate way. The Nightwatch was simply too large for that, because the larger, the more elements that need to be combined and at some point even Rembrandt will lose it, while he had a seemingly supernatural sense of composition. In the Nightwatch the central two figures have been painted precisely, the rest loosely, not because they don’t play an important role in the painting, but because Rembrandt couldn’t push the composition any further and had to leave the greater part of it less than well-defined. You can see how well he had thought out the composition, by the way the people on it are arranged with respect to eachother, but if the drawing would have been a composition that “added up”, then the painting would have been as inspiring as his best works, which it isn’t.
The Regentesses is not as large and ambitious as the Nightwatch, but still very sizable. It’s larger actually than The Sampling Officials by Rembrandt, which is said to be Rembrandt’s best work. It’s a beautiful painting, but not nearly as spontaneous as what you’d expect from a Rembrandt. This too is an example of a painting that’s too large to fully permit Rembrandt’s style. What Rembrandt wanted to do was to overwhelme the onlooker by means of a highly emotional and intense picture. Then he would have to concentrate all his pictorial ability on the part of the painting that catches the eye. In the Nightwatch and Sampling Officials there are just too many other things going on and one audaciously wonders if Rembrandt had a concept for that: how to relate an active, but secondary background to the main subject. Certainly in the Nightwatch the “Rembrandt magic” simply isn’t there. It seems to me that given his desire to be intense, a canvas size as that of The Jewish Bride was a far as Rembrandt should go, and without portraying more than two people in one painting.

The maker of the Regentesses was a very different kind of painter. Rather than the focussed intensity of Rembrandt the emphasis lies on the composition’s overall balance, which the artist achieved. The painting represents an enormous amount of dedication and while the artist could not match Rembrandt’s compositional computing power (no-one can) the painting’s concept is so well thought out that the composition is complete, while unforced. The faces are a bit overworked, but the painting combines compositional balance with a very fine poetic touch. This combined with the remarkable light effects (as mentioned in previous post) makes it in my opinion the best group portrait ever (but who know how many more surprises are out there?).
What the artist did was to eliminate all unnecessary details and keep the painting simple in color, a light-brown (yellow ocre?) dominates. That way he could limit the complexity of the composition.

The Regentesses of the Holy Spirit House, painting by Johannes Verspronck

The Regentesses of the Holy Spirit House

Okay, while I’m writing this post I’m doing some additional research leading to a pic of the painting I’m making such a bl**dy fuss about. It’s a bad pic, in b/w, but at least now I’m sure Verspronck is our guy.

The Regentesses of the St. Elizabeths Hospital

The Regentesses of the St. Elizabeth's Hospital

I’ve added his Regentesses of the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, which is just like the Holy Spirit painting, minus one, so that you can see how beautifully Verspronck could paint.
“What a fuss over a bunch of nuns”, would be the understandable reaction, but on this blog it’s all about painting, not the subject per se. Apparently Verspronck had positive feelings towards these women and portrayed them kindly.

Museum visits

May 10, 2009 in Figurative Art

I’ve taken it upon me visit all notable museums in Holland. Last week I visited the Frans Hals museum, today the Rijksmuseum, where the Nightwatch is.

I picked a fine time to visit the Frans Hals museum, because the greater part of it’s collection is currently in Berlin, with in it’s place the collections of a late art collector (called Kremer).

The moment I walked into the first room of the Frans Hals museum I thought I found myself in an Amsterdam sex club, because much of the before-mentioned collection consisted of nudity that is so distasteful it made me sick. Now, I’m not a puritan and have tried my hand on nude art myself, but I couldn’t believe how in your face these paintings were. Which shows how little we (I) understand the times in which these paintings were made, the 17th century. We picture the Europeans that lived in the 17th century as more puritan than us (gosh, we are so enlightened), but apparently sex was an accepted theme in fine art. And by accepted I mean accepted by big wigs and the upper ten in general, including the religious establishment. The paintings I saw were not just harmless maidens in the playing fields of heaven (or something), they were explicitly sexual, every painting a butcher shop of voluptuous flesh, that’s as much detail as I will give.

No matter how much this collection must be worth, it’s ghastly, except two great works: a painting by Pieter de Hoogh and an etching by Jan Lievens.

De Hoogh is the lesser Jan Vermeer. I always thought of the bright blues and reds, in particular, of some of Vermeer’s paintings as testifying of his innovative genius. The clarity in light and color and the whole approach to composition only became mainstream due to the impressionists, more than 200 years after Vermeer.

Now I know that this style isn’t due to Vermeer, but to the School of Leiden, if there’s such a thing, because both De Hoogh and Vermeer were from Leiden. Vermeer was simply the better painter.

Today I saw several Vermeer paintings and I noticed the surreal quality these works have. Please see my page about Hanne Clausen and maybe you’ll see why Vermeer’s art reminded me of Edvard Munch’s work (both Hanne Clausen and Munch are/were Norwegians). This style testifies, in my opinion, of suppressed anxiety and Vermeer’s work of a forced peace and tranquility. “All is well, I’m a privileged person” is what his art says, while in fact he was worried stiff about how to sustain his large family as a non-selling artist. According to his wife, Jan went from perfect health to death in less than a day. Did the dam burst? Mentionable, but gratuitious speculation, that’s what it is.

Anyway, let’s get back to Frans Hals. Having made short work of the Kremer collection I went to the room that had some Frans Hals. Besides the military guild pieces, which are pot burners, devoid of artistic ambition, there were some good, but overworked portraits, so I was beginning to think I was in the process of wasting my day.

But then it happened! Across the room I was greeted by the Regentesses of the Holy Spirit House, a group portrait of five women. I know Rembrandt and Vermeer pretty well, but that’s how far my knowledge of “old art” goes. I didn’t know the Regentesses, while it’s one of the greatest art works ever…

In my mind, if there’s one artist that can come anywhere near Rembrandt’s accomplishment, it’s Hals, and just because of the Regentesses. This is his piece de resistance (there may be more in Berlin, or elsewhere, but I wouldn’t know that). It’s a very ambitious work, very large, but a complete and finished composition, in which an overwhelming amount of thought, preparation, dedication, intellectual power, poetic finesse and simply everything Hals had to offer as an artist, must have gone.

While the military guild pieces are exercises in obligatory craftmanship, the Regentesses are stuffed with creative solutions to unorthodox painterly problems. One of the things that makes this painting unique is that in it the light comes from several directions. In a Rembrandt the light comes very explicitly from one direction, that’s of the main stylistic statements in many of Rembrandt’s paintings, which is an improvement over the light being directionally undefined, as is common in painting. In fact, as ayoung painter, Rembrandt made works like Tobit and Anna, which is sound in terms of it’s composition of light, but Rembrandt only came into his own when he adopted the following approach: Start with a very dark background and from there on be very explicit about where the light comes from. One then his work got the drama and intensity that characterizes his style.

Hals would have none of that. The Regentesses look like as if each of them is lit by a different spot light, the light coming from above. When I tried to paint after Playboy photos, just because of the wonderful lighting effects some of those photos have, I discovered how difficult it is to render light that comes from multiple directions. I’m not really a figurative painter, so I wil leave it up to Hals (postumely), but all the more is my admiration for Hals and his Regentesses. Such a painting is not a matter doing of what you learned in art school, because your teacher would have been blissfully unable to make something like that. It requires piling one breakthrough innovation upon another, each one a monument to creative willpower.

The painting portrays the snug and cozy atmospere of five spinsters, as 17th century Dutch painters had a flair for giving a higher meaning to banality, with all due respect to the Regentesses. The painting as a whole has incredible poetry and a atmosphere of spiritual freedom.

Clearly I’m not the only one who has noticed (although I’m puzzled why the paining isn’t much better known), because during my visit to the museum there were several women (they tend to be more appreciative of art than men) who sat down before the painting, almost in a meditative state, as if before a holy shrine.

Tomorrow I will continue to reflect upon my impressions, so this post will be updated.


Mar 18, 2009 in About My Art, Figurative Art, New Paintings

Industrial Landscape, painting by Marten Jansen

Hi everybody. It’s time to add a new painting, so take a load of this Industrial Landscape, which I painted in 1997.
Clearly visible is its Van Goghian nature, as he was my first favorite artist.
One of the things I like about Van Gogh was his tendency towards social realism, a topic which he developed during his Dutch period, but abandoned when he became an experimentally oriented painter in France. It still rings through in his landscape painting, though. While most impressionists confined themselves to idyllic and idealized scenes of nature, Van Gogh incorporated elements of the industrializing 19th century society, like in “Canal with Laundry Women, 1888” (I hope I’ve got the title right).

Canal with Laundry Women, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh

This painting is hardly Van Gogh’s most pleasing work, but it shows his unique pictorial force. With crude technical means he exactly captures the character and feeling of the scene.
Clearly, I was a simple little painter in 1997, but I’m still fond of the way my painting captures the atmosphere of the scene.
In 1997, for me, Van Gogh stood for “divisionism”, a technique which was pioneered by Georges Seurat and consisted of dots of pure colors. The impressionists developed this technique further and during his Parisian period Van Gogh would frantically experiment with divisionism, first in the form of dots, later dashes.
A little further down the line I realized that Van Gogh’s technique was about far more than just brush strokes of pure color. In fact, if you want to paint in the style of Van Gogh, you must make a study of Japanese art, because Van Gogh’s style is in essence his own quirky, ultra-expressionistic fusion of Japanese art and impressionism.

I’m coming out

Mar 03, 2009 in Abstract Art, Figurative Art, New Paintings, Personal

Portrait of Female Alien, painting by Marten Jansen
The Messiah, abstract painting by Marten Jansen

This site being my repository of bells, whistles and outlandish inventions, I have added a portrait of a female alien. I have also added an update to my Messiah painting.

End of 1990s I got involved in a UFO bulletin board, due to friendships with some of its participants. The arrogance of the “skeptics” got on my nerves to the point that I started to defend the “extraterrestrial hypothesis”. The other side (whatever that is), dubbed the “believers”, tend to be avid conspiracy theorists and some of them have impressive knowledge of the US government, for civilian outsiders, that is. Some of that, beside the friendships, is what I got out of it, but I still I take kindly to the alien as a cult icon.
At this moment an anti-Islamic Dutch politician is on his visit to the US Congress and in my country of residence being called a “multiculturalist” (usually abbreviated semi-funnily as “multicultie”) is not intended as a compliment, so maybe the time is right for me to defy……and come out of the closet…….
While the politically correct have stubbornly denied my right to think straight for decades, let me offer them this appeaser: I’m a xenophile.
Now get the ***k out of my way…I have work to do.