Holland is “One Big Art Museum”
Art Appreciation Tour by Canal Boat
By Carol Crenna
Images courtesy of Jeanne Krabbendam
Eager to travel in the footsteps of renowned Dutch painters like Rembrandt, Vermeer and van Gogh, I joined a 12-day art appreciation tour of the Netherlands to discover secrets of their art and of their lives. Aboard a converted 109-year-old canal cargo boat named Schip Josefien, our group of 11 Canadians varied greatly in art experience. However, everyone hoped to gain new perspectives by viewing the country through artists’ eyes.
Dutch Canadian psychiatrist-turned artist and award-winning art instructor, Jeanne Krabbendam, 64, began organizing these tours in 2008 for artists and art lovers. “I have been a professional artist since 1987,” she says, “but only after leaving Holland 18 years ago and returning as a tourist did I truly appreciate how my home country is like one big art museum.”
Under stone bridges, along rings of canals, we wove our way through the country’s rich tapestry of history. “We not only travel the rivers, we travel through time,” Jeanne briefs each group. “Starting in Amsterdam with The Golden Age’s Rembrandt, we then experience Dutch Masters such as Frans Hals in Haarlem and Vermeer in The Hague, and travel to Impressionists van Gogh and Monet in Otterlo. Making our way back to Amsterdam, we see modern artists Appel and Chagall, and contemporary artists like Richter and Dumas.”
We begin the journey through some of Amsterdam’s 100 kilometers of canals, past Renaissance buildings to the Rijksmuseum, the country’s signature cultural attraction reopened after a decade of renovations. It is breathtakingly beautiful, overwhelming. Guided through cathedral-like hallways, we pay homage to artists Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer and Jan Steen. Yet it is Rembrandt van Rijn who rules here with works like The Night Watch and The Jewish Bride. Notably absent in the art? Religion. Without ruling control of crown or religious affiliation in the Netherlands, Renaissance artists rarely depicted these subjects, and instead celebrated the lives of upper and lower classes, offering vital clues to Dutch history.
At Douwes Fine Art Restorations, we are welcomed with lunch and a behind-the-scenes look at the art restorer’s studio. Open to the public only as a gallery, we are privileged to watch as restorer and co-owner, Erick Douwes carefully removes old varnish on a portrait circa 1675. As a friend of Jeanne, Erick even invites those in our group brave enough to try their hand at restoration while he chats about his profession, learned from his father.
After a visit to Rembrandt’s house, looking just as he left it in the mid-1600s, we’re back onboard Josefien for a delicious dinner of lamsragout met pruimen (lamb stew with prunes). The evening’s painting session discusses Masters’ techniques while our group of 55-to-75-year-old well-educated, traveled women bond through lively conversation and creative expression in the boat’s art studio.
Cruising more canals, we moor in Haarlem, an important art town where many Golden Age Dutch painters lived and worked. At the Frans Hals Museum, built in 1609, the largest collection of Hals is within its magnificent chambers and dining hall. Hals’ famous portraits offer unstudied realism with loose but decisive brush strokes depicting intricate details.
As we learned alla prima painting techniques (mixing colors of thick wet paint directly on the canvas), Josefien makes its way to the quaint village of Gouda (of global cheese fame) where buildings from the Middle Ages rest alongside cobblestone streets crisscrossed by stone bridges.
“When you better understand art, you enjoy it more, and know what to look for within artwork in galleries. Art appreciation tours and instruction educate your eyes to become more discerning whether you are a collector seeking quality, an art history enthusiast, or an artist learning to create more comprehensive work.”
Jeanne Krabbendam, art instructor and tour leader
Josefien then traveled through the Green Heart of Holland to Rotterdam to visit Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Guided by Edward, a professor of art history, we gain an overview of Dutch art from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. We then spend the afternoon on bicycles touring Rotterdam’s modern, whimsical architecture that, in some cases, defies gravity.
The next day we boarded a train to The Hague. At Mauritshuis, originally home to a 17th century count, we ascend its grand staircases to view works including Johannes Vermeer’s remarkable Girl with a Pearl Earring and View of Delft, Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson and haunting Self-Portrait, and Carel Fabritius’ famous The Goldfinch.
This seaside town features a magnificent Panorama Mesdag, the largest painting in the Netherlands (14 meters high, 40 meters wide). It illustrates a 360-degree view of what The Hague’s shoreline looked like in 1881. Fleets of tall ships, armies of soldiers, fishermen and towns people come to life within this massive canvas dome. We then visit the same ocean view in reality with its Côte d’Azur-style seascape lined with centuries-old buildings, and stroll its sandy beach.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the task of Kinderdijk’s 19 iconic 18th-century windmills was pumping water out of low-lying farming lands.
Josefien continues cruising through pastoral landscapes before stopping at the World Heritage Site Kinderdijk and its19 windmills dotting a country field. Walking along dikes to the cluster of inhabited, working windmills built to pump seawater out of the dikes, it feels as though we have been transported into the windmill painting back at the Museum Boymans van Beuningen. Inspired, I stayed onboard afterward to paint while others wandered the Brigadoon-like port town of Schoonhoven.
Heading inland toward Otterlo, we tour the Dutch National Park, De Hoge Veluwe by bicycle, stopping at Kröller Müller Museum, and one of Europe’s largest sculptural gardens. Its 25 hectares provide a backdrop to massive sculptures by artists including Auguste Rodin. The museum encompasses 11,500 artworks. Considered “the second home to Vincent van Gogh,” it boasts 180 drawings and 90 of his paintings. Here, Jeanne describes how van Gogh painted, encouraging us to examine art using concepts learned in her earlier lecture.
Circling back to Amsterdam, we stroll through Jordaan, one of the oldest neighborhoods, to view boldly contemporary work at Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. One of the ladies commented that evening, “Though we have done and seen so much, I don’t feel tired because cruising the canals aboard Schip Josefien has been so relaxing.”
As a novice artist, I enjoyed the hands-on learning, trying techniques within hours after seeing an historic or modern masterpiece that used them. Yet the tour’s historic insights and personal stories about the Masters provided even richer depth to appreciate their art. I consider this as I pack up my own finished painting — not a masterpiece, but a cherished souvenir.
Follow Up Facts
Geared to mature men and women, the Dutch River Art Tour with Jeanne Krabbendam, www.jeannekrabbendam.com/news.html, includes: all meals (on board and at restaurants), travel throughout 12-day tour (canal boat, tour boat, train, taxi, bus), side trips and museum excursions with guides exclusively available on this tour. Schip Josefien offers 10 private cabins with ensuite bathrooms, dining room, a fully-stocked art room with paints, brushes, canvases, mediums and easels, enough bicycles for everyone, and a sundeck. Both art tours are SOLD OUT for July 2019. Please make contact through the website to discuss dates and details for 2020 sailings.
Visit www.holland.com and www.iamsterdam.com for complete information on travel in Holland and in the city of Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is a fascinating city that deserves extra days for exploration. Spotlighting a favorite choice of accommodation for both visitors who love the arts and those who just love a quirky place to stay with a very unique story, read our feature article about the historic Lloyd Hotel & Cultural Embassy.
Based in Vancouver, Canada, Carol Crenna has been a journalist for over 30 years, and feels very fortunate when she gets to follow her passions (art and writing) to international locales.