At this time of year, daylight in the Netherlands arrives late and ends early. Sunrise begins after 8 am, sunset concludes before 4, and the sun stays low most of the day. On occasional clear mornings and late afternoons, the light paints the landscape with a distinct yellow cast. My camera doesn’t show it well, unfortunately, but mjmourik has done a great job of capturing "Mysterious Dutch Light" in his Flickr photos. The grass, trees, buildings all take on a sort of mustard yellow tint ("Gamboge yellow", we called it in watercolor class), further highlighted by contrast with the flat robin’s egg blue of the sky.
I was reflecting on this effect of Dutch Light while checking the dates for the huge European Art Fair (Tefaf) in Maastricht (March 8-16). The Fair an expensive but worthwhile event, filled with classic and modern works exchanging between private patrons that you’ll never see again in public galleries.
Last year, I wandered the many galleries of Dutch master paintings, and noted that they all seemed suffused with the same yellow light. As an example, a painting by Aelbert Cuyp (above, right), a 17th century artist known for early morning and late afternoon landscapes of the Dutch countryside. Again, Jan Both (below, left), an Utrecht painter of the same period who painted peasants and travelers in golden Dutch light.
So it’s not just a haze in my post-holiday head. Of course, the golden tone might be just be caused by aging of the varnish, but, looking out over the winter landscape, I still think that I see the essential Dutch light that was captured over the centuries in these works. The scientist in me wonders what is released from the ground (bogs?) to diffuse the light in this way: it seems to cling low to the horizon and to be stimulated by sunlight. However, the nascent artist in me is, this morning, content to just enjoy the effect (fleeting, though: the typically grey Dutch clouds have now raced in from the west to cover the sky…)
Note added: It turns out that a movie was made about this phenomenon: The website blurb is certainly provocative:
"There’s an ancient myth that the light in Holland is different from anywhere else, but it has never been put to the test. It’s the legendary light we see in paintings. The German artist Joseph Beuys, however, says that it lost its unique radiance in the 1950s, bringing an end to a visual culture that had lasted for centuries. Dutch Light breaks new ground by examining this renowned but elusive phenomenon. What is Dutch light? Is the light in Holland really different from that in other parts of the world? What is true, what is myth, what is fiction? And was Joseph Beuys right? Dutch Light addresses these fascinating questions. And it is an ode to light and to observation. It turns looking into a new experience."