Seven Dutch artists and why they are so important

Dutch artists have been pioneers of artistic techniques and evolving aesthetics long before Dutch designers took centre stage in the 20th century. Here is our list of seven key artists who had a major impact on the art world.

1 Pieter Bruegel The Elder  (1525-1569)
Period: Flemish Renaissance

How many Netherlandish proverbs can you spot?

How many Netherlandish proverbs can you spot?

Born in Breda, Bruegel lived in France and Italy before settling in Antwerp and becoming a prominent figure of Flemish Renaissance painting. Called Peasant Bruegel for his depiction of peasants in his paintings, his works were laden with social commentary. Whether it’s Hunters in the Snow with its secular representation of country life or Netherlandish Proverbs, his works explored conflict between people and society. Bruegel also evolved the contemporary style of landscape paintings to include scenes from everyday life.

 2 Frans Hals (1582 – 1666)
Period: Dutch Golden Age

Catherina Hooft with her nurse

Catherina Hooft with her nurse

Born in South Holland, Hals lived in Haarlem for most of his life and became the foremost portrait artists among the wealthy of the area. He mastered a technique of keeping the brushstrokes visible – something that was considered almost a flaw. The Metropolitan Museum of Art points out that his bold brushwork went on to inspire Realist and Impressionist painters.

3 Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
Period: Dutch Golden Age

Forget the lady, here's the old man in red

Forget the lady, here’s the old man in red

Though the The Night Watch is one of the first paintings we associate with the Dutch master, Rembrandt also had a lasting impact on portraiture. His use of lighting creates a patch of triangle light on the subject’s face – illuminating one half in a chiaroscuro effect. The technique is used in portrait photography even today and called Rembrandt lighting.

 4 Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)
Period: Delft School

Officer and a laughing girl - is he also a gentleman?

Officer and a laughing girl – is he also a gentleman?

Another Dutch artist known for his mastery of light, some schools of thought credit him with the earliest use of photography in art. Some claim that Vermeer used a Camera Obscura, a precursor to the camera, to plan the perspective in his painting. One example of this is Office and a Laughing Girl, where the officer looms large because he is closer to focal point. Vermeer’s technique for creating light and texture – dots and spots of colour – was another legacy for artists to take up.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Period: Post-Impressionist

Wish we were there: cafe terrace on the Place du Forum in Arles at night

Wish we were there: cafe terrace on the Place du Forum in Arles at night

Night skies brought alive by swirling colours, strokes of yellow and blue for houses and skies, fields and meadows –the seeming stress on emotion over aesthetic in Van Gogh’s art is often considered the start of Expressionism. In 2007, the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam explored the influence of his art on the 20th century movement. ‘German and Austrian Expressionist artists… responded not only to the formal qualities of his paintings but also to the passionate intensity of his vision and the dramatic story of his life… The Expressionists saw Van Gogh as the trailblazer of modern art,’ wrote Neue Galerie, which hosted the same exhibition in New York.

6 Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
Period: De Stijl Art Movement

Classic Mondriaan

Classic Mondriaan

In the late 1910s, Mondrian came in contact with Theo van Doesburg who is considered the founder of the De Stijl movement. While Cubism and Abstraction were a great influence, the artist had his own style that he carefully evolved. Between 1917 and 1918, Mondrian wrote extensively on his new artistic theory Neo Plasticism. For him, horizontal and vertical lines (which were ‘constructed with awareness but not with calculation’) could become strong works of art and forms of beauty.

 7 M C Escher (1898-1972)

7. Escher - Waterfall

Maurits Cornelis Escher’s highly individual art is difficult to club with any contemporary movement. However later in his life some did group him with Op Art (optical art that plays with illusion). Escher’s exploration of impossible reality, inspired by his understanding of mathematical concepts such as tessellations, polyhedrons and space, marked in a shift in how artists played with their canvas. From merging planes in Waterfall to infinity in Snakes, his work paved the way for artistic and mathematical collaboration.

Obviously, this is far from an exhaustive list, so please feel free to submit your own ideas. We’re always open to improvements!



2 thoughts on “Seven Dutch artists and why they are so important

  1. Richard Vos

    Don’t forget Jeroen (Hieronymus) Bosch, who had an enormous influence on several artists. For example, Salvador Dali.


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