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  • These days we have our very own Hermitage in Amsterdam. It's a dependance of the larger and more expansive Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.

    It is housed in the Amstelhof, a building that served as a retirement home for more than 300 years. The Hermitage Amsterdam was opened in 2009 after extensive renovations and redesigning of the building to create a modern museum, commemorating and celebrating 300 years of cultural and commercial links between Amsterdam and St. Petersburg.

    Czaar Peter the Great, its founding father, had visited Amsterdam and was impressed with its design of waterways and canals, and used it as a model to transform the swampy land around the Neva river into the St. Petersburg we know today.

    Hermitage Amsterdam hosts theme exhibitions from the collections of the Hermitage St. Petersburg and other Russian museums.

    Recently I visited its newest exhibition; "Impressionism: Sensation & Inspiration, highlights from the Hermitage".

    A beautiful exhibition tracing the history of the rise and influence of Impressionism in Paris of the mid and late 1800's.

    But also outlining the influence of the invention of photography, and the importance of Russian collectors who saw beauty in this, for that time,avant-garde art.

    Also at this time saw the introduction of the paint tube, invented and developed by American artist John Goffe Rand. It freed the artists from the shackles of the studio. Artists could now work outside, with a box full of paint tubes, brushes, a palette, prepared canvases and an easel. They could now paint au plein air, working fast to capture the impressions of the ever changing light and weather conditions.

    Goffe Rand's invention may have been the single-most important development that allowed Impressionism to happen. As an exhibition-text bluntly puts it: 'No tube, no impressionism'.

    I love these stories behind the STORY.

    And then in one of the smaller rooms, in the corner of one of the smaller rooms, my eye was caught by a little unassuming painting. A beautiful composition in pinks and golds and siennas: a young lady in a peony-rose dress sitting at an easel, copying a painting in the Louvre. The artist's name is Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, a lesser known god in the Impressionist pantheon, and a name I do not know, but my god, how he can paint.

    The painting can't be any bigger than 30 x30 cm, but it shimmers in its monumentality. It feels like the artist is still busy, as you witness the pigments glide and slide around the surface, everything is edge-less as surfaces meld into each other; foreground becoming background; background becomes picture frame, frame becomes landscape.

    And then Monique says,"look, it's your painting!". And she's right. I can see it now, too.

    The girl in the painting is copying details of Watteau's "Pilgrimage to Cythera" ( c.1717) onto a fan.
    There are two versions of Watteau's 'Cythera' painting. One hangs in the Louvre, the other in Charlotteburg in Berlin.

    I have also painted a copy of "Pilgrimage to Cythera", but then the 'Charlottenburg' version.
    And not 30 x 30 cm but something more like 14.0 x 8.5 mts.
    Actually I painted two different versions, and together with a collegue they took about three months to complete. The two canvases were part of the scenery-decor for an opera production: Platee, an obscure barok piece by the French composer Rameau.

    All these names, I hope you're still with me.

    The result was wonderful, and it was a great privlege to work on such a huge project, and to have the time ( an ironically, increasingly scarcer commodity in our , how do you call it , 24/7 economy) to complete it.

    Like the young lady in the peony-rose dress, copying the Old Masters gives you an insight into how painters think, how they organize composition, colour, athmosphere.

    It's an inspiration and an insight into how they tell their story.

    see next story "Pilgrimage to Cythera"

    photo taken with my dumb-phone
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