7 famous Dutch artists who achieved greatness

The Dutch Golden Age is one of the reasons there were so many great Dutch artists, including Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals and Rembrandt van Rijn. In the 17th century, the Netherlands experienced a time of cultural, economic and scientific prosperity. This period positively influenced the emerging art market, which was characterized by the influence of wealthy patrons and collectors who supported the art. Many portraits and iconic masterpieces were created. Artists of later periods, such as Vincent van Gogh, were still influenced by works made during this time by famous Dutch masters. Here are 7 famous Dutch artists whose work received international recognition.

1. Hieronymus Bosch (ca. 1450 – 1516): Renaissance Dutch painter

Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights
The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, c. 1490–1500, via Museo del Prado, Madrid

Hieronymus van Aken, which is Hieronymus Bosch’s real name, was born in Hertogenbosch, Brabant, where he also worked as a painter. Bosch is a reference to the city where he was born. He worked as an artist, even though his wife was rich, and he could probably afford not to work. Many of his family members were also artists. Bosch is known for his fantastical and apocalyptic paintings that show religious themes. He was a member of the religious organization Brotherhood of the Virgin Mary, but after the artist’s death, his work was interpreted as an expression of someone associated with witchcraft or the occult, which is highly unlikely.

The Garden of Earthly Delights is a famous example of his work as an artist. It shows a nightmarish depiction of hell on the right side and nude figures interacting with fantastic animals in the middle. His strange and dreamlike creations made him an influential figure in the art world and served as inspiration for the Surrealist movement.

2. Frans Hals (1582/83–1666)

Portrait of Frans Hals Paul Verschuer
Paulus Verschuur by Frans Hals, 1643, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Frans Hals was born in Antwerp, Spanish Holland, and died in Haarlem, where he spent most of his life. Around 1610 he became a member of the Guild of St. Luke of Haarlem. He is known for his outstanding work as a portraitist, his spontaneous way of painting and his free style, similar to the later works of Impressionism. Modern artists such as Edouard Manet and Vincent van Gogh were influenced by his work.

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In an 1888 letter to the French artist Emile Bernard, Vincent van Gogh described the great variety in the work of Frans Hals, an artist who focused almost exclusively on portraiture, writing: He paints portraits; nothing nothing nothing but that. […] he makes portraits of good citizens with their families, the man his wife, his child; he paints the drunkard, the old tern full of witchy gaiety, the beautiful gypsy whore, babies in swaddling clothes, the gallant, bon vivant gentleman, moustached, with boots and spurs. While the earlier works of art by Frans Hals, such as The merry companyoften appear cheerful, his later works seem more somber.

3. Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 – 1669)

Rembrandt Nicolas Tulp Anatomy Lesson
The anatomy lesson of Dr. Nicolas Tulp by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1632, through Mauritshuis, The Hague

Not only is Rembrandt considered one of the most important artists of the Dutch Golden Age, he is also one of the greatest artists of all time. He was born in 1606 in Leiden, the son of a miller and one of ten children. He attended the Latin school in Leiden and later studied painting with the painter Jacob van Swannenburg. Rembrandt then went to study art with Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam, who was a famous historical painter at the time. Lastman influenced Rembrandt’s preference for mythological and religious works. The artist’s exceptional technical skill, dramatic way of depicting light and shadow, ability to capture moods and expressions, and master a wide range of subjects from portraits to landscapes made him one of the most important figures in Western art history.

His fascinating self-portraits, his colossal painting The night watchand The Anatomy Lessons of Dr. Nicholas Tulp are often considered some of his most famous works. The night watch is perhaps his most famous work. With a dynamic composition and a striking contrast between light and dark, the work shows members of a civilian militia. The Anatomy Lessons of Dr. Nicholas Tulp is commissioned by the Guild of Surgeons. It shows guild members watching anatomist Dr. Nicholas Tulp dissect a criminal. The painting features Rembrandt’s characteristic contrast between light and dark colors and his captivating depiction of the subject’s expressions.

4. Judith Leyster (Baptized 1609 – Buried 1660)

Self-portrait by Dutch artist Judith Leister
Self Portrait by Judith Leyster, c. 1630, through the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Compared to other artists on this list, Judith Leyster is not as well known. She was, however, an important artist of the Dutch Golden Age. The fact that she was a woman makes this achievement all the more impressive as the art world was very male dominated. Judith Leyster became a member of the Harlem Guild of St. Luke when she was 24 years old. She was one of its first female members.

In 1936, she moved to Amsterdam after marrying her husband, Jan Miense Molenaer. They shared a studio. She was influenced by the famous Dutch portraitist Frans Hals, who was her contemporary. Some of her works have even been falsely attributed to him. She is known for her genre paintings and portraits, some of her most famous works being A boy plays the flute, A couple on the goand The proposal. Illuminated only by a lamp, the scene in The proposal shows a man offering a scantily clad woman money in exchange for sex, but she seems to ignore him. The painting has sometimes been interpreted as a feminist work of art.

5. Johannes Vermeer (Baptized 1632 – 1675)

dutch artist johannes vermeer woman water pitcher
Young Woman with Water Pitcher by Johannes Vermeer, ca. 1662, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Johannes Vermeer is another famous artist who was active during the Dutch Golden Age. He was born in Delft, which was a trading center in the 16th and 17th centuries. Although today he is one of the most famous Dutch artists, he was not always so acclaimed. Especially after his death, he became more and more unknown, only to be rediscovered later.

Vermeer’s father was a weaver and art dealer who later became an innkeeper. In 1653, Vermeer became a master artist in the Delft Guild of St. Luke, which allowed him to teach students and sell his art in the city.

Vermeer is best known for creating genre paintings of everyday life and interior scenes, such as Young woman with water pitcher, A woman in blue reads a letter, or The milkmaid. Other famous paintings of his include The art of drawing and Girl with pearl earring, which inspired Tracy Chevalier’s novel of the same name. There is even a movie based on the novel. His depiction of light and focus on quiet and ordinary scenes, to which he gave a captivating and peaceful quality, made him a highly regarded artist.

6. Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)

vincent van gogh wheat field cypresses
Wheatfield with Cypresses by Vincent van Gogh, 1889, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh was born in 1853 in Zundert. He was the son of a Protestant minister. Vincent worked as an art dealer as well as a preacher before becoming an artist. Through his work as an art dealer, he became familiar with many works and paid attention to what he described as the fast and lively painting style of Frans Hals and Rembrandt. His productive period as an artist lasted only ten years from 1880 until his death in 1890.

A year before his death at the age of 37, he committed himself to an asylum in St. Remy. Also that year he did his job Wheat field with cypress trees, which he considers one of his best works. The work depicts a landscape in the summer season. Known for his vivid use of color and expressive brushstrokes, Van Gogh is considered one of the most important post-impressionists. His struggle with mental health issues led to a certain romanization of his personality and his art. He is often portrayed as the stereotypical tormented artist who was as tormented as he was brilliant.

7. Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (1872 – 1944)

dutch artist piet mondrian composition red blue yellow
Composition with Red, Blue, Black, Yellow and Gray by Piet Mondrian, 1921, via MoMA, New York

Piet Mondrian, a Dutch painter and a major member of the De Stijl movement, was born in 1872. He played a significant role in the development of abstract art. He is particularly known for his lattice paintings consisting of straight lines, black, white and grey, and the three primary colors red, yellow and blue.

Mondrian began studying painting when he was 14 years old. He wanted to pursue a career as an artist, but his father wanted him to get a degree in education, which he did. He then enrolled at the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam. In 1909 he became part of the Theosophical Society, which greatly influenced his work. Comparing the artist’s earlier works with his later works, one can see how Mondrian moved away from naturalistic images and focused on abstract forms. In 1915 he met Theo van Doesburg, who was another member of the De Stijl group. Mondrian also coined the term Neoplasticism and published his essay Neoplasticism in fine art in the journal called The style. Here he wrote: As a pure representation of the human mind, art will express itself in an aesthetically pure, that is, abstract, form.

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