Dutch Art and Culture

Each year tourists from around the world flock to visit the famous Dutch museums. In the past year alone, the largest Dutch museums collectively welcomed in excess of 12 million visitors, an increase of half a million on the previous year. For many years the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam have remained by far the most popular of these.

The acclaim of Dutch artists is not only a recent phenomenon either - there were world-renowned Dutch masters enjoying the trappings of fame as far back as the seventeenth century.

The Dutch Masters

In the seventeenth century, the ‘Republic of the Seven United Netherlands’ received international recognition and foreign trade burgeoned, bringing much wealth to the nation. This explains why the era is known as the ‘Golden Age’ in the Netherlands. Not only Dutch commerce flourished, but Dutch art and painting blossomed during this period of history too. The most famous Dutch painter of the Golden Age, and perhaps of all time, was Rembrandt van Rijn, known for his skilled craftsmanship and playful use of light and dark. There is an entire room dedicated to his much-admired painting ‘The Night Watch’ at the Rijksmuseum and the Rembrandtplein in Amsterdam boasts a magnificent bronze statue of the artist. During his extremely productive career, Rembrandt produced in excess of three hundred paintings, three hundred sketches and more than two thousand drawings, all in the ‘Baroque’ style. In addition to Rembrandt, there are several other famous Dutch artists belonging to the so-called ‘Hollandse School’ or ‘Dutch School’, such as Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Jan Steen. All three are known for their celebrated Dutch landscapes and cityscapes, copies of which are often found on souvenirs and tins of Dutch food products, such as syrup waffles (stroopwafels) and Dutch biscuits (speculaas), for sale in Dutch supermarkets. Following the Golden Age, the Dutch art scene was relatively quiet until the nineteenth century, when the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh began to achieve worldwide prominence, albeit posthumously. The colourful and sometimes dramatic post-impressionist paintings of Van Gogh captured the imagination of young and old alike, resulting in the massive queues that form all year round, from early morning until late at night, in front of the Van Gogh Museum.

The twentieth century heralded the emergence of a number of new Dutch artists including Piet Mondrian, Karel Appel, Corneille and MC Esscher, who promise to keep the Dutch tradition for world-class art truly alive.

Dutch Literature

In the seventeenth century, a common standard was approved for the Dutch language, allowing the development of Dutch literature and prompting the success of distinguished Dutch poets and playwrights, Joost van den Vondel and Pieter Cornelis Hooft. In the nineteenth century, the Dutch writer Multatuli was exceptionally popular, particularly because of his criticism leveled at the colonial rule in the Dutch East Indies. In 1949, after a bloody struggle, the Dutch East Indies achieved independence from the Netherlands and became Indonesia.

During the Second World War, Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager who hid with her family to escape Nazi persecution, wrote her famous diary. Her father, who was the only family member to survive the war, realised that his daughter's diary was of great historical significance and that Anne Frank would represent a potent and highly personal symbol of the suffering brought about by war. The Diary of Anne Frank quickly received worldwide attention and sold in huge quantities that were translated into many foreign languages. Today her diary is one of the most widely read books in the entire world. After the war, Dutch literature was dominated by three major writers - Willem Frederik Hermans, Harry Mulisch, and Gerard Reve. An unfamiliarity with the Dutch language has often meant that international appreciation of Dutch authors has been more subdued. Nevertheless, a considerable number of Dutch books have been published in many languages, and the movie ‘The Assault’, based on the much-loved book by Harry Mulisch, has won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar.

Dutch Music

Although the Dutch School made an important contribution to the Renaissance music of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, at an international level the Netherlands never achieved much recognition for its music. In the seventies, a number of Dutch bands such as Golden Earring, Shocking Blue, Earth & Fire had a few ‘one-hit-wonders’ and in some cases managed to reach a wider international audience. In the last ten years Dutch DJ's, in particular, have achieved international success, including Tiesto and Armin van Buuren. In the Netherlands itself, the most well-known artists of the sixties and seventies were Boudewijn de Groot and Rob de Nijs. More recently artists such as Frank Boeijen, Guus Meeuwis, Marco Borsato and Rene Froger have taken center stage. A separate genre of music known as ‘zangers van het levenslied’, which translates roughly as singers who sing about life, usually with a melancholy theme, has a large following in Holland. The genre was led by revered stars such as Willy Alberti and Andre Hazes, the ballad singer from de Pijp (a working-class neighbourhood of Amsterdam). Their mantle has been taken over by a new breed of young singers, such as Jan Smit. The Dutch also enjoy live music and bands from around the world are invited to perform at the numerous music festivals held all over the Netherlands. Every year Pinkpop, Lowlands, and the North Sea Jazz Festival are almost always entirely sold out.

Dutch Architecture

In the nineteenth century, Dutch architecture really came to the fore with the help of one of the most famous Dutch architects Berlage, known for Art Nouveau and Rationalism. Berlage also laid the foundation for the ‘Amsterdam School’, a school of Dutch architecture that became a big movement in the twenties and thirties. It is characterized by rounded walls featuring intricate decorative masonry, art glass, wrought ironwork, windows with horizontal bars and steep roofs adorned with spires. You can find perfect examples of the Amsterdam School in many of the pre-war neighbourhoods of Amsterdam and will also notice the influence of famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in his later work.

Dutch Cultural and Natural Heritage

When people talk of Dutch ‘cultural heritage’, they usually refer to a combination of famous Dutch museums, including the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh museum and the Mauritshuis and stunning palaces such as the Palace Het Loo. But the traditional canals of Amsterdam, Dutch windmills, typical bridges, and dikes are also an integral part of Dutch cultural and industrial heritage. The Dutch are rightly proud of this legacy and are keen to ensure that it is properly preserved for current and future generations, both at home and abroad.