The Dutch light phenomenon

2022 02 01

The Netherlands has a long artistic tradition and is well known in the world as a decade of great artists. Rembrandt, Jan Vermeer, Albert Cuyp, Jan van Goyen - when it comes to the creation of these artists, the light, contrasts of light and darkness, sisters, reflections are always brilliantly depicted in their paintings. They knew how to turn an everyday scene into an illusion of calm beauty. They ismoke ziurova to see the picturesqueness in the usual corner of nature or hometown, to notice the play of light and sister, the illusion created by zavetis light.
It was the Dutch artists who were the first to discover and convey the baskets of heaven and light during the entire development of art. They didn’t need anything dramatic or stunning to make their paintings interesting. They just portrayed the world as she saw it. We will also see this trend as an exhibited artist in painting and photography.
The works of the visiting artists have been shown in world-class galleries and museums: MoMA in New York, Booijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Noord Brabant Museum in Den Bosche, and the CAC Center for Contemporary Art in Malaga has been all about special light. The works on display in the exhibition will allow the juror to rediscover well-known genres of photography and painting, and the presentation of the exhibition will highlight the relationship with the most influential Dutch artists of the 17th century, as well as the influence of ancient art traditions.
Appearance in the 17th century. The Dutch light phenomenon continues to appeal to today's painters, photographers, light art, video art creators and, of course, watchmen. The environment depicted, the interpretation of the themes has changed, but the light is bright, golden, it still exudes and still inspires
Participating artists:
Willem van Veldhuizen - painting
Danielle van Zadelhoff - photography
Reinier Berendsen - painting
Frank van Driel - photography
Jeroen Paulussen - painting
Exhibition curator:
Daiva Balvers

Golden Age period in the history of the Netherlands

The 17th century in the Dutch history is also called the Golden Age. During this period, trade, science and arts flourished in the Netherlands, and the country played an important role in the world politics. How is it possible that such a small and relatively remote country in the 17th century Europe became so important – as a state, as a centre of the world trade, as a disseminator of culture? Even more surprising is that it was achieved in an incredibly short time. A lot of historians have tried to find the answer to this phenomenon. The Netherlands was not an example of a common state model in the 17th century Europe, but rather “an exceptional case, deviation from the common cultural and economic norms prevailing at that time.” One of the predominant theories is that 150 years before the Industrial Revolution the 17th century Republic of the Netherlands already had a modern economic system. This was evident from the well-developed agricultural, labour and capital markets, the fact that the government respected property rights and fully promoted economic growth, the prosperity of science and culture, that the individual’s place in society was determined not only by the birth right but also by his merits.  Compared to other countries, the education of the population was high, and not only in cities but in rural areas as well. Nowhere else in Europe was there such a tolerance for different religions and customs, the prevailing culture of “discussions”, where the expression of opinions was considered an important factor in the exchange of experiences seeking to find the best solution. No wonder that due to the mainstream democratic atmosphere, good economic conditions, the brightest people of that time flooded the Netherlands from Europe: merchants, scientists, philosophers, and artists.



Prak, Maarten,Gouden Eeuw. Het raadsel van de Republiek (Amsterdam 2012)


Development of the art market

 Thanks to migrants coming from the neighbouring countries, where they were persecuted because of religion or nationality, the population of many cities doubled or even tripled. Urban development and transportation projects were created and implemented. Favourable conditions appeared in society for the implementation of technical innovations and scientific inventions. Thanks to the trade policies pursued by the East (VOC) and West Indian companies (WIC), the country’s economy grew rapidly and the income of the population increased. The predominant atmosphere of tolerance in the country allowed philosophers, writers, architects and artists to create without restrictions. Art throve especially. Paintings have always been an attribute of luxury, the church and nobles have long been the main customers, but as the number of wealthy citizens grew, so did the number of orders. The English traveler Pieter Mundi in 1640 wrote in his travel diary that “no one else values paintings as much as the Dutch. In all houses, whether it is a rich merchant, a butcher, a shoemaker or a baker, valuable paintings hang on the walls.” This newly formed market for works of art has led to the emergence of new genres of painting unique to Holland. If in the past religious, historical, mythological genres prevailed, then during this period landscapes, domestic scenes of daily life, still-lifes, cityscapes, church interiors, exteriors, seascapes often depicting scenes of famous battles became popular. It was a totally new trend. Artists had to work quickly and cheaply to meet the high demand, often specializing in painting only one subject, for instance, only domestic scenes or winter landscapes, or only still-lifes. Based on the archive data, between 1580 and 1800, from 5,000,000 up to 10,000,000 paintings were painted! Artists joined local guilds which oversaw artists’ compliance with the rules, regulated social contacts and protected artists from unfair competition. Around 1670–1680, the end of the period of art prosperity began to be felt, and as demand fell, many even famous artists ended their lives balancing on the brink of poverty.


  1. Prak, Maarten, Gouden Eeuw. Het raadsel van de Republiek (Amsterdam 2012)
  2. Giltaij, Jeroen, Het grote Gouden Eeuwe boek (Zwolle 2013)


  The Dutch light phenomenon


Back in 1538, Michelangelo emphasized the ability of Dutch artists to convey reality. Figures, clothes, green fields, bridges, rivers shown in their paintings were painted so precisely that they did not differ from reality. This trend was further developed in the 17th century. The artists of that time had to have a special memory. It can be said that the artists painted realistic landscapes based on their memories and sketches made during walks. In the workshop, they laid out the composition of a painting, selected the colour palette and, what was most difficult, reproduced the light they saw. They taught a viewer to see the pictoriality in a usual corner of nature or in their hometown, to notice the play of light and shadow, to admire the illusion created by light. It was Dutch artists who were the first during the entire development of art to discover and convey the beauty of the sky and light. They did not need anything dramatic or stunning to make their paintings interesting. They simply depicted the world the way they beheld it.

In the 1850s, the Netherlands became popular with famous painters and writers. Monet, Manet, Liebermann, Whistler, Boudin, Fromentin, Mirbeau and the Goncourt brothers all came to see Holland’s famous 17th-century paintings and the typical Dutch countryside for themselves. And along with them came writers, painters and photographers from America, Germany, France and Britain. From their diaries and journals it seems almost as if the Dutch countryside was discovered through 17th-century paintings, as if the landscapes and the light were the inventions of artists.

The French writer Octave Mirbeau remarked that the ‘real Holland, the land of water and sky… the pearl grey realm’. The German painter Max Liebermann wrote that ‘the mists that rise from the water and shroud the world in a translucent veil give that country its extraordinarily picturesque quality … everything is bathed in light and air.’

The Goncourt brothers described Holland in their famous journal as ‘a country lying at anchor’, where light shimmers as if it were filtered through ‘a carafe of salt water’, and in the sky, the constant presence of ‘Ruisdael’s swollen, leaden clouds’.

The French philosopher Hypolite Taine had this to say: ‘Holland’s flat horizons have little to offer. The air is always hazy, which makes all the contours blurred and indistinct. It’s the small touches that matter most. A cow grazing in the landscape is simply tones among other tones. What we notice are the nuances, the contrasts, the values and tonality of the colours. The shades of brightness and the gradations of colour are astonishing… a delight to the eye.’ Descriptions of this kind, contradictory as they were, gave birth to the myth that Dutch light was special.

Professor of art history at the University of Amsterdam, one of the initiators of the Rembrandt Research Project, and a connoisseur of 17th-century painting. Van der Wetering is the voice of dissent when it comes to the significance of Dutch light in 17th-century painting. He doubts that it was a factor at all and says there were as many kinds of light as there were ways of painting. It was not a question of light, he adds, but of a painter’s methods and style.

People believe in the myth and see what they want to see. No one remarks if the light is dull or uninteresting. Van der Wetering agrees that Dutch painters like Vermeer, Koninck, Rembrandt and Fabritius were outstanding masters and superb painters of light, but to say that they painted ‘Dutch’ light is going too far. ‘They were Dutch painters painting the effects of light – and it might not be wrong to say that they learned more from one another than from observing the world around them.’

Only the genius of famous XVII Dutch artists created the Dutch light phenomenon. The light depicted in their paintings still amazes and inspires many of the world’s artists and spectators, their works are on display in the world’s most important museums, making the Netherlands and its cultural traditions famous.


  1. Prak, Maarten, Gouden Eeuw. Het raadsel van de Republiek (Amsterdam 2012)
  2. Giltaij, Jeroen, Het grote Gouden Eeuwe boek (Zwolle 2013)
  3. Hollands licht. Maarten de Kroon.Gerrit Willems. Dutch Light films 2010









: 2022-01-26