Alte Pinakothek [On Foot]
A remarkable feature of 17th-Century Dutch painting is its extraordinary popularity among the Dutch. Everyone bought and hung paintings in their homes, not just the wealthy. English traveller Peter Mundy writes about this popular demand for pictures:
All in general striving to adorn their houses, especially the outer or street room, with costly pieces, butchers and bakers not much inferior in their shops which are fairly set forth, yea many times blacksmiths, cobblers, etc. will have some picture or other by their forge and in their stall.
The Church was not a patron of the arts in this region, and pictures were rarely commissioned: most paintings were sold in the open market, by dealers or artists themselves. This popular demand affected the nature of works created. Portraits and landscapes were common. We also see simple village scenes, outdoors and indoors. Still life paintings (the term derives from the Dutch stilleven) reached new heights. And all this inspired generations of artists in Europe and America in the following centuries.
The Alte Pinakothek hosts an enviable collection of 17th-Century Flemish and Dutch paintings. (There are several other categories, but I found myself walking the rooms with these small format paintings by the Flemish and the Dutch, and some Italian and French paintings from the 17th and 18th Century.) The three hours in those galleries were among the most fulfilling I’ve spent in an art museum.
The rooms were mostly empty. One could stand and observe the works uninterrupted, in silence. I had forgotten what a pleasure this could be. The last art museum I visited, on a weekend in 2012, was the MoMA in New York; the contrast could not be bigger. The series of galleries created an unending pattern of doors and halls, like two mirrors facing each other.
Among the paintings I was drawn to were artists I had not heard of: Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin’s Woman peeling Turnips, Adrien Brouwer’s Village Barber Shop, Jacopo de’ Barbari Still-Life with Partridge and Gauntlets.