Dutch Drawings of the Golden Age, an exhibition that celebrates the flourishing
of culture in 17th-century Holland, will be on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum from May 28
through August 25, 2002. The exhibition examines the growth of artistic production during a
period in which political, religious, and economic changes were reshaping the fabric of Dutch
society. This compelling view of Dutch life features a selection of important works from the Getty
Museum’s extensive collection and showcases a number of new acquisitions.
Dutch Drawings of the Golden Age is presented in conjunction with the Getty Museum’s
exhibition The Sacred Spaces of Pieter Saenredam, on view through July 7, which focuses on the
work of one of the most remarkable painters of 17th-century Holland. Together with Rembrandt
and Vermeer, Saenredam is considered one of the great luminaries of the Golden Age of Dutch
"This exhibition provides a lively and insightful look at Dutch life during a momentous period in its
history," said Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and vice president of the J.
Paul Getty Trust. "Seen with the Saenredam presentation, it affords audiences an opportunity to
view drawings from the Getty’s collection alongside an important loan exhibition that gathers work
from the United States and Europe."
Era of Sweeping Changes in Dutch Society
Beginning in the early 1600s, the art of drawing thrived in Holland as never before. Artists such
as Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Jan van Goyen turned perceptive
eyes to the pageant of Dutch society surrounding them, and recorded virtually every aspect of
daily life in pen or chalk—from country fairs and merchant ships to landscapes and flora and
"This exhibition conveys the rich texture of Dutch life through a selection of carefully observed
and finely executed drawings by some of the most important artists of the day," noted Stephanie
Schrader, exhibition curator and assistant curator, department of drawings, J. Paul Getty
Museum. "It begins with the active role that artists played in the Dutch fight for political freedom
and explores their subsequent celebration of their native land, customs, and artistic activities."
The Golden Age is also noteworthy for a boom in the Dutch merchant economy. Not surprisingly,
as the Republic became more politically independent and economically prosperous, the market
for artwork grew rapidly. Drawings in this period not only maintained their traditional function as
preparatory studies for more finished works of art, but also were increasingly commissioned and
collected in their own right. In addition to depicting established historical and religious themes,
artists portrayed new subjects from the world around them.
Exhibition Features New Acquisitions
Several new acquisitions are featured in the exhibition, including A Young Herdsman Leaning on
his "Houlette" (about 1650) by Herman Saftleven the Younger. In this work a young herdsman
holds a houlette, a long, slightly curved tool used by a shepherd. The textural combination of
chalk and wash adds to the rustic effect of the figure. By setting him against a plain background
and positioning him in the immediate foreground, Saftleven puts the young boy on display so that
he appears to pose for the viewer as he sweetly smiles from underneath a large, floppy hat. The
drawing was likely made as a stock figure to be used later in a painting.
Another new acquisition is Jan Lievens’ View of a Path in the Haagse Bos, with Beggars at the
Door of a Cottage (about 1660). Famous for his wooded landscapes executed in pen and brown
ink, here Lievens shows the Haagse Bos, a famous forest around The Hague. Lievens skillfully
captures the effects of a sun-dappled landscape by drawing the middle of a winding road, bits of
foliage, and patches of tree trunks lighter than others. Lievens’ use of Japanese paper
underscores how artists benefited from the vast number of foreign goods being imported into
Amsterdam. Coveted for its rich golden tone, this rare and costly paper suggests that Lievens’
drawing was made in the studio as an independent work of art.
A third new acquisition on view is Adriaen van de Venne’s Moralizing Scene with an Old Woman
and a Man (1631). Executed in subtle tones of the same color, the grisaille (monochromatic
work using shades of gray) paintings and drawings by van de Venne tend to focus on human
folly. These subjects are often moralizing in their tone and warn against certain types of behavior.
The intriguing theme seen here is not particularly clear. From the rather unflattering depiction of
the old woman smoking a pipe, one might interpret the drawing as a condemnation of her
licentiousness. The bagpipes seen hanging from the man’s belt, which were often used as symbol
of sexual prowess, might also suggest immoral behavior. What is apparent in van de Venne’s
scene is his beautiful treatment of light. The use of the lamp as the primary light source allows for
the dramatic illumination of the man and woman.