Sunday, April 03, 2016

reflecting class

“Reflecting Class in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer” features paintings, decorative arts and other artifacts from the Golden Age of Dutch Art.  It is a rare opportunity to view these 71 specially selected works reflecting various social strata scenes and portraiture of a then new 17th century Dutch Republic; also known as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.

The Republic formed after the Peace of Westphalia, as part of the Peace of M√ľnster, ending the 80 Years’ War between Spain and the Dutch, and ushered in a new era of Dutch independence, and relative democracy.  Merchants within the new Dutch republic benefited immensely from the availability of cheap shipping and cessation of the hostilities.  They soon dominated markets English traders previously ruled, and quickly became the most prosperous nation in Europe leading in not only trade, but also science and art.


In spite of independence and democratic leanings, class distinctions remained a core trait of society, conveying special meaning to citizens and providing structure to daily life.  In is in this sphere of existence that these works of art evolved.  Reflecting the various social and economic castes in settings typical of the 17th century Netherlands, the “Dutch Masters” produced some of the finest pieces of the Baroque period.

While visiting the event “Passport to India,” we enjoyed the opportunity to visit this event, occurring at the same time within the Bloch Building of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  The works were very interesting, and exciting to see in person finally. 


Several of the paintings held our attention for quite a while.  The artists must have intended that.  So much was happening in some of the scenes, it was impossible to take it in all at once.  One could muse over these pieces for long periods up close, becoming a bystander in the scene; again, seemingly very much intended.  It was the 17th century after all.  These folks did not have television or mobile devices to capture their attention.

Personally, I continually drew comparison between these works and modern Street Photography, which tends to capture everyday life of folks from every social status. These paintings do the very same, capturing otherwise mundane and ordinary tasks and events of life associated with their world in that time.  Even the portraiture aspired in that direction. More often than not, the subjects are presented at a task or as if having just stepped away from their work, to provide context of their station.


Anyone with an interest in this type of work should definitely take the time to make the effort. The exhibition closes on May 29.  While I have not really monitored art exhibitions passing through Kansas City enough to know for certain, I cannot recall when anything quite as significant has passed through in recent years.  

The presentation of the art left a bit to be desired.  The gallery stark, excepting the faux velvet purplish background.  The lighting seemed poorly arranged as well.  It cast odd reflections across the top of many the works, which was disappointing, and somewhat inconvenient for photographing. 

The exhibition probably did not have photography in mind during setup though.  Apparently, prohibited on some level or another, signage was not particularly obvious.  Indeed, it was not until blatantly photographing several of the paintings that another visitor whispered the restriction.  Hearing that, along with confirmation from another nearby, reliance on clandestine methods became the imperative.  After all, I remain Paparazzi.





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