On Tuesday evening, 3 February 2015, a commuter train from Grand Central Station to Westchester County and Connecticut crashed into an automobile on a crossing in Valhalla, New York. Of the more than 600 passengers in the train, six in the first car were killed in a fire caused by the crash. Among them was Walter Liedtke, a friend and colleague of Gary Schwartz. With their first exchange of letters.
The legendary single sale of a painting by Vincent van Gogh in his lifetime is not the art market discovery it is usually taken to be. It has a rich and moving background involving a cast of admirable characters, not least of them Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, who in Brussels challenged a vilifier of van Gogh to a duel.
For the past 70 years, short stories in The New Yorker that refer to death do so in a strikingly undercooled way, in avoidance of "sentimentalism or fear" or "being maudlin." This phenomenon was unknown in the magazine before 1946, when Albert Camus' novel L'Etranger was published in English. Schwartz relates the famous opening of L'Etranger to an unacknowledged feature of New Yorker fiction.
With admiration and affection, Schwartz offers tribute to Paul Huvenne on his retirement as director of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. In keeping with Paul's conviction that thinking in images precedes thinking in words, I present confirmation from my childhood years of learning Hebrew from a school Bible.
The Safavid shahs of Persia entertained a real interest in European art, at a period when Europeans had nothing but disdain for the art of Persia. Schwartz publishes on the subject once again.
A yeshiva boy's food memories, topped by Mrs. Hrzka's potluck kitchen on West 181st Street.
Christie's is about to auction as a Vermeer a painting of the early Christian St. Praxedis, who distinguished herself by conserving the body parts of martyrs. In doing so, the auction house braves the dismissal of the Vermeer attribution by nearly all experts in the field. Schwartz is convinced that Christie's is right and they're wrong.
The final scenes of two of the greatest books of the twentieth century, The trial by Frans Kafka and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, are eerily similar. Schwartz examines this and other disturbing overlaps, including ties between him and Heller.
On the painting of an Apocalypse that has already come and will never be really gone, by the Dutch Nazi artist Henri van de Velde.
“Oude en nieuwe wonden,” Het Financieele Dagblad, 31 January 2004, p. 25
When P.J. Blok, one of the leading Dutch historians of the first half of the twentieth century, came across a dirty remark in a letter by a leading seventeenth-century personality of the House of Orange, he simply left it out of his transcription. Schwartz digs up the shocking source.
In 1890 the fanatical cultural pessimist Julius Langbehn succeeded in convincing the German people that Rembrandt was not only one of them, but the best German of all. Rembrandt's individuality and spirituality deserved to be taken as a model for a nation diseased by the degeneracy of Jews, journalists and academics. Art historians thought this was perfectly fine.
The Palace of the Academy in Brussels has a secret that was revealed in a magical moment to Schwartz in June 2006. It concerns the greatest princely collection of paintings ever assembled in the Netherlands. In anticipation of an exhibition devoted to that collection, Schwartz now discloses all. Below the line he appeals for a celebration of the centenary of Kazimir Malevich's abolition of reason.
The finest private art collection ever assembled in the Netherlands stands to the credit of King Willem II, in the mid-19th century. How it was lost to the country is a story of monumental insensitivity and shortsightedness as well as sheer philistinism. Followed by an account of a mini-excursion in the Rhineland, undertaken to substitute for a real vacation in Burgundy. (August 2000)
An exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum curated by Queen Beatrix gives rise to a comparison of her choices and those of her predecessors, Stadholder Frederik Hendrik in the seventeenth century and King Willem II in the nineteenth. The comparison is limited to the ratio between artists from the northern and southern Netherlands. The results are striking. (January 2001)
In 1300 the first Holy Year was proclaimed, offering pilgrims to Rome attractive indulgence packets. This took place shortly after access to pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land was curtailed by the loss of Acre. Schwartz relates these events to each other and to the commissioning of Giotto's depiction in St. Peter's of the Ship of the Church, the famous Navicella.
The Van Gogh Museum has put on display a painting by van Gogh of the plains below the ruins of the abbey of Montmajour. The museum calls it a "new discovery," although it has known the painting for 22 years and in the past rejected its authenticity. The Van Gogh is not telling us as much as it should.
A masterpiece of seductive tendentiousness celebrated its 50th anniversary on 1 June 2001: Gerard Knuttel's gorgeous De letter als kunstwerk (The letter as a work of art). Schwartz resist its charms with the help of 50-year-old memories of H.W. Janson's insight into the anachronistic comparisons of music and visual art in LP and CD covers.
Three spectacular current exhibitions set out to restore the look and content of past displays of art. Antwerp Cathedral in the sixteenth century, an Antwerp merchant's house in the seventeenth and the greatest English collection of the eighteenth have been endowed with their historical look and contents. Schwartz is deeply content.
Summer jobs in the Catskills and in Washington Market in the mid-1950s turn out in 2003 to have more meaning than Schwartz knew at the time.
The source of François Truffaut's movie Shoot the piano player has never been properly identified. In 2003 Schwartz revealed the film's debt, via the novel by David Goodis that was Truffaut's immediate inspiration, to Joseph Conrad's immortal Victory. Ten years later, his discovery still ignored by the world, he sends it off once more. The P.S. predicted the onset of the debt crisis five years before the fall of Lehman Brothers.
The opening of the New Rijksmuseum prompts reflection on how Schwartz experienced the museum from the 1960s until 2003.
A memorial tribute to a great art historian who died far too young.
Impressions of museums and monuments in Hangzhou and Wūzhèn, China, in November 2011.
The emergence of an unknown painting with a close resemblance to an engraving said to reproduce a painting by Rembrandt brings a host of associated images, objects and persons into play.
Attempting to pay tribute to the supreme Frits Lugt and his Fondation Custodia and to protest the announced closing of the Institut Néerlandais with which it is joined, Schwartz sets out to describe one example of Lugt's collecting genius and gets caught up in the subject. Read about two related drawings and a print by and after Constantijn van Renesse, the only Dutch artist of the 17th century from Schwartz's adopted village of Maarssen.
Cultural pessimists who are sure of the ongoing decline in our appreciation for art will have no choice, after reading Schwartzlist 321, but to change their tune if not their mind.
The more we find out about the physical facts concerning works of art, the more aware we grow of the dangers of former and present-day restoration and conservation measures, and the narrower the margins become for responsible treatment. Yet, restore we must - or must we?
The world press has announced that a painting of an old man in Woburn Abbey, England, has been newly discovered to be an authentic Rembrandt. Schwartz, who included the painting in his book on Rembrandt of 1984, as have all other cataloguers of Rembrandt paintings from 1836 on, is incensed that the abbey practices such flagrant spin, and that the press feeds it to us so uncritically.
Schwartz is a museum junkie. Wherever he travels, the art museum is his first stop. During the second half of 2011, he got to lots of new destinations, and he found new museums almost everywhere he went. This installment is about Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Belgium. In a following column it will be the turn of China.
As an undergraduate at New York University in the mid-1950s, Schwartz engaged in several one-on-one debates about art with the painter Philip Guston. He wonders what they meant to Guston.
Pieter Saenredam documented his own art so well in inscriptions on his paintings and drawings that even lost work can often be identified. Now, however, a completely unknown composition has turned up, a view of the artist's birthplace - even the house in which he grew up - in a touchingly personal painting.
Have you seen the announcement by the Van Gogh Museum that a painting in the museum that has generally been called a self-portrait of Vincent is actually a portrait by him of his brother Theo? Before you grant it your precious credence, see what Schwartz has to say.
The terms Rembrandt school, Rembrandt workshop and Pre-Rembrandtist are taken for granted too unquestioningly. In fact, they have created immense confusion. Anticipating the second conference of Rembrandt specialists at Herstmonceux Castle in July 2011, Schwartz calls for a more critical look at the Rembrandt ambit.
The royal palace in Amsterdam is being restored and cleaned. Technical repairs come in the first place, but the campaign is also intended to reduce the disturbing differences between the lightest and darkest blocks in the facade. To Schwartz's eye the operation, impressive and succesful as it is, nonetheless increased the contrast between the upper and lower stories of the palace.
On a scale rating artists by their achievements outside their profession, the unquestioned Number One is the third-century Azerbaijani Persian painter Mani, who founded a revolutionary religion that thrived for a thousand years. Schwartz pays tribute to him and to the inspiring interfaith activist and phenomenal collector of Islamic art, Nasser David Khalili.
Between the 1610s and 1650 an enchanting form of painting was produced in Antwerp and Antwerp alone: the kunstkamer painting, an evocation of an art collection in which actions of various kinds take place. Love of art is not the only kind of love expressed in these paintings. In one of the very earliest examples of the genre, Schwartz discovers conjugal and filial love as well as love for God.
In the course of the past decades the Dutch government has changed its tune time after time concerning its arts policy. A column on the subject written in February 1997, when the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage was invented, is here released as Schwartzlist 16, provided with a P.S. on the disbandment of that body.
In 1997, Schwartz described a way in which museums could provide visitors with highly personalized digital information and imagery to enhance their viewing of original objects. In 2010 the means to make this technically feasible came within reach. The first concept and its latter-day form are sketched in and made available to anyone or any institution wishing to pursue an idea whose time is about to come.
As a reader of Hebrew, Schwartz has long been intrigued by the occurrence of lettering in that language in works of art. He examines a sample of works from the 15th century, now on view in Bruges, to find out how much Hebrew they contain and whether it means anything, either as text or as a symptom of Jewish-Christian relations. His conclusion: it means neither.
Diego Velázquez was a better artist than his master, Francisco Pacheco. This is reason enough for some art historians to deny that Pacheco, the leading Seville artist of his day, was a formative influence on his pupil. Schwartz sees this as an affront to the historical study of art, and he rallies to set matters straight. Below the line his welcome greeting to the new Dutch government.
An extended critique of the Rembrandt Research Project and of connoisseurship in general. Published in the last issue of the short-lived journal Annals of Scholarship. The issue is dated 1993, but the sickness and death of the editor, Ruth Graham, led to a delay in publication until 1995.
In 2014 the world will begin to mark the centenaries of the First World War and its attendant effects. These include the end of the age-old Central European dynasties. However, the end of the dynasties began earlier, in 1910, one hundred years ago this week, in unexpected places. As far as Schwartz is concerned, the celebrations can start right now.
What's the use of having an Internet medium at your command if you can't use it to correct your mistakes? Schwartz improves on the overview of the nationality of Dutch painters that he uttered in a nine-part radio program on the history of the Netherlands seen through its art.
The first exhibition devoted (in part) to the work of the Antwerp master Guilllam (aka Willem) van Haecht is nearing its close in the Mauritshuis. Van Haecht was the object of intensive study by Schwartz for an unfinished dissertation. He lets down his hair and expresses his chagrin at being bypassed by the organizers. Supplemented by fascinating van Haecht materials wrongly omitted from the exhibition.
A fascinating and important painting on which Schwartz wrote a long article in the J. Paul Getty Museum Yearbook in 1983 was sold at auction by the museum in 2007. Schwartz worries about whether the art museums of the world take themselves sufficiently seriously as custodians of artistic heritage.
Although the discussion is still somewhat one-sided, Schwartz continues his attempt to correct certain misapprehensions on the part of his colleagues concerning the nature and extent of Rembrandt's work as a draftsman. Here he compares the promise of the recent Getty exhibition with the compromise it delivers.
Prevailing opinion has it that Rembrandt drew far fewer drawings than the 1500 in the standard catalogue of Otto Benesch, and that he almost never used drawings to prepare his compositions. Schwartz posits the opposite: that Rembrandt drew far more than 1500 drawings and that it was his normal practice to use drawings - most of them now lost - in the preparation of his etchings and paintings.
Since 1991, the opinion has held sway that only 70 drawings by Rembrandt can be confirmed with great certainty. That is, drawings that are signed, otherwise inscribed in Rembrandt's hand, indented for transfer to the etching plate or serving as preparatory studies for an autograph painting or etching. Schwartz now expands that list from 70 to 169.
A painting by Jan Steen of a wedding night disturbed by a demon and saved by an archangel was cut in two in the distant past and put back together again in 1996. Ownership of the larger, more attractive part has now been awarded to the heirs of a Dutch Jewish art dealer to whom it belonged in 1940. What is going to happen now? Ending with an appeal to Marei von Saher.
The first exhibition on the Arabian peninsula of original work by Rembrandt took place in Muscat, Oman, from 19 August to 19 September 2009. Schwartz made a brief film on Rembrandt and Amsterdam to introduce the master to the Omanis. He attended the opening and the first week of the show. His impressions.
In April Schwartz was told by the Prince Bernhard Cultural Foundation that in November he was going to receive their tri-annual prize for the humanities. He had to keep the news under wraps until it was announced by the Foundation, which happened this morning. It was fun keeping the secret, but it's also fun to let you know about it.
Is it more harmful for a museum item to be crated and shipped off to a loan exhibition or left hanging in its own gallery or storage facility? Do we see the scars of damage once they have been repaired? Schwartz answers these questions as he takes leave of CODART, the network organization for museum curators of Dutch and Flemish art he thought up and worked for for 12 years.
With apologies to those of you who liked There will be blood, Schwartz trashes the movie for betraying the book on which it it is fraudulently based, Upton Sinclair's Oil!
The recently closed exhibition Images of Erasmus at the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam rightly introduced Hieronymus Bosch into Erasmus's sphere. Schwartz reveals unsuspected truths - well, at least possible truths - about the two of them.
There are times when the behavior of an artist or a museum can fill you with disgust. Covered by the kneejerk respect for art displayed by society, they betray artistic and moral principles that you try to live by. What if anything do you do about it? Schwartz wrestles uncomfortably with the problem.
Forty years after the stirring events of May 1968, the Dutch media asked people to recall what they were doing at the time. With a six-month delay due to circumstances, Schwartz consults his memory.
400 years ago last January a precious gift from Bishop Bernard Maciejowski of Kraków reached Shah Abbas I of Persia. It was a magnificent picture Bible, apparently intended to warm Abbas' heart for the Christian faith.The manuscript, now in the Morgan LIbrary, unites contributions from Jewish, Christian and Muslim civilization. As a talisman, it has not yet done its work.
One in so many Western works of art contains an image of a person we would call black. The phenomenon attracts relatively little attention in art history. The Menil Foundation went after it seriously, in a project now inherited by the Warburg Institute. An exhibition in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam offers a sanitized view of the black in Dutch and Flemish art.
The diffusion of Dutch art throughout Europe, the subject of a classical monograph by Horst Gerson in 1942, has never enjoyed more attention than it is receiving right now. Schwartz reviews current Franco-, Anglo- and Italo-Dutch developments, ending with a report on a spectacular new discovery concerning Rembrandt in Genoa.
The idea that Greek sculpture was once colored is easier to deal with than real-life reconstructions of what it looked like. For some unfathomed reason, Schwartz prefers the original polychromy of Gothic statues but not of Greek and Roman ones.
To test the extent to which Iraq would have become a model Middle Eastern democracy by the year 2005, well into the era of neocon nirvana, in 2003 Schwartz and his artist buddy Joseph Semah plan to stage a Purim Play in Baghdad in March 2005. Happy holiday.
The Rijksmuseum has published the first volume in a series of scholarly catalogues of its collection of Dutch paintings of the 17th century. The two books, one of text and comparative illustrations, the other of color plates, are not only a model of collection catalogues, they are also an unguarded kaleidoscopic self-portrait of Dutch society in the early years of the Republic. Schwartz is lyrical.
Tired of self-righteous pronouncements on the hot subject of Dutch national identity, Schwartz looks for a way of quantifying the subject. Statistics comparing Dutch attitudes toward Europe with those of other Europeans provide revealing results. For one thing, the Dutch turn out to be the most opinionated populace in this part of the world. But despite themselves, they do have their saving graces.
A country art auction in England made the front page all over when the world when 2.2 million pounds was paid for a painting that looks a lot like a Rembrandt self-portrait. Is it? Schwartz thinks it is, and supplies an analysis to explain why. At the same time, he shows how the published opinions of the Rembrandt Research Project could have led to the rejection of the painting by the experts consulted by the owner and the auction house. More like an article than a column.
The exhibitions that take place in Kassel every five years (initially four) since 1955 under the name documenta have a powerful founding myth. They were initiated in response to two forms of totalitarianism: they rehabilitated German artists who had been banned by the Nazis as "degenerate" and they showed up the repressive cultural policies of Communism by flaunting daring Free World art. A powerful myth indeed, but is it true? The yeses and the nos.
Cleaning up his desk is a luxury Schwartz cannot well afford. Doing it anyway, he came across a note from a Swede he met last year. The story behind it, concerning mysterious stone patterns in the brick tower of Strängnäs Cathedral, is told here, with an appeal to the reader to solve the mystery they pose.
On the road, especially in faraway places, Schwartz is known to succumb to an upwelling of Jewish sentiment that he never acts on at home. In Isfahan, he attended Friday-night services in the synagogue of a 2,500-year-old community and got a powerful dose of tribal feeling.
No one who has been educated under the regime of the ayatollahs in Iran has heard of Rembrandt, according to research carried out by Schwartz in Shiraz, Tehran and Isfahan. Being kept in the dark not only about him but about Western culture in general adds to the discontent of the Iranians, who nonetheless treated Schwartz to an exclusive, tourist-free introduction to some of their greatest cities and monuments.
We have been fooled too long into thinking that it is up to us, innocent ict customers, to safeguard our own privacy and money from cyberthieves. We are not equipped to do this and those who should be protecting us saddle us with demands that are impossible to fulfill.
The commemoration of war victims provides a measure of closure for the pain of war. It may not feel that way, but it forms an important part of war itself. Rather than eliminating memorial days, Schwartz argues for the extension of mourning to cover all victims of war, down to enemy, civilian and psychological casualties. Such a practice would aggravate rather than ease the emotional burden of war, bringing it closer to the point where it becomes unbearable.
The last of 274 columns that first appeared in Dutch, in Loekie Schwartz's translation, in Het Financieele Dagblad. Schwartz and his Loekie discover together the ancient feast of Epicurus and decide to celebrate it from now on. Epicurus was a champion of moderate pleasure as a way to find peace.
An eloquent new essay in what is called contemporary history, a book by the Dutch author Geert Mak on the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, brings back memories of the predecessor of the present bridge, which Schwartz first crossed in August 1961. It was a pontoon bridge that opened every night for shipping to the Golden Horn. Every time it was reopened for land traffic, a race took place that now seems like a clue to the creation of human values.
The historical museums of Europe ignore minorities and therefore lend implicit support to xenophobic national self-images. The rise of high-quality Jewish museums serves as an excuse for historical museums to eliminate the Jewish dimension of European history from their displays. A campaign to redress the balance is called for.
In February a volume of studies in Dutch art was published in memory of the economist and historian of Dutch art Michael Montias. Schwartz recommends it. In a P.S. the impending end of the Dutch-language basis for the Schwartzlist is announced.
The emergence of 32 works said to be unknown Jackson Pollocks, a generation after the death of the artist, had an uncannily similar precedent in the Wacker Affair, involving 33 paintings put on the market in the late 1920s as van Goghs. If art history indeed repeats itself, the Pollocks will turn out to be deliberate forgeries.
If the climate really does change drastically, culture as well as the environment will be affected. Dutch culture is closely linked to certain winter conditions that may disappear. All that will be left is false nostalgia, of which we have more than enough these days.
"Our predecessors did the best they could, but they did not have our superior knowledge of restoration science and technique, so they did more harm than good to the objects they treated." This left-handed excuse for the irresponsibility of one's colleagues in the past is a mantra of the profession of art restorer. Without challenging the desirability of some restoration, Schwartz takes objection to the pretence that it does not harm art objects and to the faulty logic of the excuse.
An Australian-Dutch art historian who lives on Malta has produced a classic edition of one of the great cultural monuments of the island. Dane Munro's book on the tombstone inscriptions of the Hospitaller knights of St. John is a book that transports you into another world - no, two other worlds.
Bureaucratic bloodymindedness has no place in the arts. Schwartz cites and chides a particularly abrasive example, further philosophizing about art and bureaucracy.
Two independent Dutch art historians, Michiel Roscam Abbing and Roelof van Straten, have made optimal use of the Rembrandt year to bring out some basic books on the artist as well as more popular writings. A tribute.
The idea that Rembrandt was sympathetic to Jews and Judaism is so generally accepted that it is seldom questioned critically. One of the pillars of this supposition is the identification of many portrait sitters and models as Jews. Hardly any of these can however stand up to scrutiny.
Traveling in countries where you don't speak the language limits your possibilities. But Schwartz is anything but sorry that he spent a week in Hanoi in October 2006. He made the acquaintance there of the artistic explorer Rienke Enghardt, who collaborates with colleagues all over the world. Schwartz daydreams about the possibilities for scholarly adventures of that kind.
The Rembrandt year cannot be said to have impinged deeply on Korean society. But when Korean art historians and the Dutch business community were offered the opportunity to hear the latest news from Holland on the master, they and the media came in droves. Will Korean art, with so much older a tradition, ever command as much attention in the West?
As the story is now told, the decline of the 18th-century city of Savannah has been reversed by two events in the arts: the growth throughout the historic center of the Savannah College of Art and Design and the phenomenal success of the novel Midnight in the garden of good and evil by John Berendt. Schwartz hopes that art also has solutions for the problems created by the large-scale gentrification attending this development.
In 1983 Svetlana Alpers proposed that Dutch artists, more than others in Europe, were fascinated by optical instruments such as the telescope and microscope. This hypothesis, which Schwartz always doubted, he now disputes with new evidence. The earliest documented depictions by artists of things that cannot be seen with the naked eye both date from 1623, and neither supports Alpers's theory.
The Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD) has moved to excellent new premises. With these new quarters, along with its first-class website, the RKD is now optimally equipped to help researchers.
If information and knowledge are the decisive factors in international competition, the days of the present dominance of the United States are numbered. The rest of the world knows so much more about Americans than they about non-Americans that the US is a sitting ducks for competitors. The attacks of 11 September 2001 were facilitated by cultural asymmetry.
The antiquarian book trade is a conduit for treasures of the kind that Schwartz loves. It is practiced at a high international level in the Netherlands, primarily by a single firm, Forum. The owner, Bas Hesselink, regrets that nearly all of his best books are sold abroad. Schwartz also commemorates his late friend Wim Smit.
For thirty years a small network organization of publishers of illustrated non-fiction and art books has been meeting before the Frankfurt Book Fair to do deals of their own. The east-west group, called Motovun, had particular value during the Cold War. The trade in color printing in eastern Europe before the Wende was however not only collegial and commercial. It was also fed by the desperation of the Communist authorities to acquire western currency, to the point of selling out the interests of their own publishers.
The museums of Germany (and not only Germany) are experiencing a drastic decline in visits to the permanent collections of Old Masters. Only temporary exhibitions bring in visitors. Schwartz is afraid that museums may some day disband their galleries for old art. The 400th Rembrandt birthday installment of the Schwartzlist, with a link to a page on the presentation in the Rijksmuseum of Schwartz's new book on Rembrandt.
An exhibition of Rembrandt etchings, with a few drawings and paintings, in the National Museum of Art of Romania, is accompanied by a film of 1991 on the repair by the Dutch of two paintings damaged in the overthrow of Nicolae CeauÃ…Å¸escu in 1989. Another two were taken for restored and cleaned. Schwartz observes that basic facts about the painting cannot be seen with the naked eye. How can the museum visitor know when major interventions have been performed on a work of art? He can't.
The indispensible Amsterdam archivist Bas Dudok van Heel, a friend for many years, finally got his Ph.D. Not all art historians were prepared to accept him as a colleague, despite his unending stream of publications on Dutch art and artists. Justice has been done with the award to him of a degree in art history. His dissertation is a collection of articles on Rembrandt, whom he places firmly in the camp of the dissident Remonstrant brotherhood.
The death of Karel Appel prompts reflections on the two most successful Dutch artists of the second half of the 20th century, Appel and Dick Bruna. Their resemblances are more interesting than the differences between them. Schwartz adds an outraged P.S. on Rita Verdonk and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the subject of Schwartzlist 255.
The Somali-Dutch political heroine Ayaan Hirsi Ali operates from within the (conservative) Liberal Party in the Dutch Parliament. In her fight against Moslem intolerance and anti-feminism, she appeals to the thinking of liberals like Isaiah Berlin. Schwartz argues that Berlin would not have shared her stance with regard to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, and would have been sickened by the stand on immigration of Hirsi Ali's fellow "Liberal" Rita Verdonk.
Rembrandt drew inspiration from artists all over Europe and paid back in kind. He was widely collected in Europe in his lifetime; after his death even more. In the Rembrandt Year 2006, the Rembrandt holdings of museums all over the world are being displayed. The broad diffusion and wide acceptance of his art turned Rembrandt early on into a standard for quality and impact, a standard that is still respected.
The directors of two German museums have agreed to long-terms loans of large chunks of the Dutch and Flemish holdings of one (the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) to the other (Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen). This unusual arrangement was inspired by the network organization for museum curators of art from the Low Countries to which both directors belong, CODART.
A friend of Rembrandt's wrote four poems on The hundred-guilder print. Only two of them, sweet thoughts on the goodness of Christ, are cited in the literature. The third one, a concise statement of classical Christian anti-Judaism, has been repressed in the Rembrandt literature. Schwartz insists that we acknowledge that Rembrandt shared the same attitudes toward the Jews of all his contemporaries and that he was not sympathetic to Judaism.
The Rembrandt paintings that come to the TEFAF are typically enjoying a brief public moment between periods of obscurity in private collections. The re-emergence of a man's portrait in the Suermondt-Ludwig Museum in Aachen, ten years after disappearing from view, is a case in point. Schwartz would like to see a degree of public accountability on the part of owners of important cultural heritage.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is showing a highly imaginative presentation of printed matter from the Dutch Golden Age. It stimulates speculation about the development of an audience that simultaneously looks and reads and often counts and calculates as well.
A criminal group of savvy Russian art historians and restorers is preying on Russian collectors by foisting off doctored Dutch and German landscapes of the 19th century as the work of Russian artists. The price differential is astronomical. According to Schwartz, the affair exposes the meaninglessness of nationalism in art.
The former director of the Rijksmuseum, Henk van Os, has credited the Rembrandt Research Project with the dethroning in the 1980s of the Man with the golden helmet in Berlin. He is wrong, and his version of events perpetuates damaging myths concerning the Rembrandt Research Project. Schwartz sets the record straight.
Genius, Schwartz posits, begins with the ability to think faster than the common run of humanity. He demonstrates this proposition with reference to Saul Kripke, Big Willy Horton, Mozart, Rembrandt and Lodewijk Houthakker.
State Secretary for Culture Medy van der Laan called upon Dutch museums to entice immigrant teenagers with electronic fun and games. Chief Art Mandarin Rudi Fuchs protested. Never mind electronics, he said. A good human explicator could convince anyone who would listen why Rembrandt was a great artist. He was given the chance to prove this, and failed. Schwartz challenges van der Laan to convince her own civil servants of the importance of art.
The Netherlands State Secretary for Culture, Medy van der Laan, spoke contemptuously of the museums under her charge in a newspaper interview. Rather than conserving, displaying and explaining the objects in their care, she said, they should be exerting their efforts to attract minorities and kids to the museum. For all their shortcomings, this the Dutch museums do not deserve.
The violent deaths and attitudes toward Islam of Theo van Gogh and the brother of his great-grandfather, Vincent van Gogh, are compared. The murder of Theo brings to mind Schwartz's one meeting with him, which remained the only one because Schwartz could not ignore van Gogh's repugnant anti-Semitism. A man who figuratively went for the jugular of his opponents has been brought down by one of them who did the same literally.
One of the first corporate art collections in the Lowlands was built between 1950 and 1975 by the banker Maurits Naessens for the Belgian division of the exclusive Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas. The collection solidified local pride, associating the bank with the glorious past. After a series of mergers, the collection now belongs to the much larger Dexia Bank, which has stopped collecting Old Masters and only buys contemporary art. Whereas the Banque derived prestige from its purchases, Dexia conveys prestige on the artists it buys.
A powerful new challenge to the neoclassical school of economics has come out of a study of prices for new works of art by the Dutch sociologist Olav Velthuis. Velthuis finds that prices are not just amounts of money, but symbolic indicators, "social, cultural and moral" entities. This applies to more markets than just that for art. Schwartz is impressed, but wonders whether this truth is enough to pull the rug from under the feet of the Chicago school. See also Schwartz's low-key celebration in words of the fortieth anniversary of his arrival in Holland on 5 November 1965.
In 1975 Derk Snoep published a classic study on the public ceremonies held in the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries to welcome high guests. Because art of this kind has been out of favor among students of Dutch culture, his book has not received the attention it deserves. Schwartz nominates it, along with four other, more obviously influential Dutch contributions, for the non-existent Nobel Prize for art history.
The Nationalmuseum in Stockholm is showing an overview of Dutch painting of the 17th century based mainly on its own large and excellent collection. The most interesting art-historical novelty in the exhibition is the section on Dutch painters who worked in Sweden. The most influential of them was Allaert van Everdingen, who as a young man from Alkmaar introduced the wild Scandinavian look into landscape painting.
We have become inured to the use of the term "attributed to" in the opposite of its proper meaning. Schwartz conducted a small-scale analysis of one auction sale to see whether this and other art-world euphemisms are used systematically by auction houses. He found that they are, but that buyers attach a different value to the terms than the house.
Art dealing in the grand style is practiced by the Maastricht dealer Rob Noortman. Crowning his second published collection of 100 paintings is a Rembrandt portrait, depicting the artist's wife's cousin Aeltje Pietersdochter Uylenburgh, which Noortman bought in 2000 and sold this year. It probably thanks its spectacular condition to benign neglect on the part of its previous owners, the French Rothschilds, who owned it from 1835 to 2000.
Theo Scholten (1927-2005) was a remarkable man, a legend in the world of business, finance and art collecting. He and his wife built a collection of modern sculpture, mainly by Dutch artists, that they donated to the city of The Hague as Museum Beelden aan Zee. Schwartz commemorates his gift as chairman of a committee to buy art for the city of Utrecht in the 1970s and '80s. The column is followed by a notice on the death of Michael Montias.
The Jagiellonian University in Kraków, one of the oldest in Europe, has a museum of scientific instruments and works of art in the picturesque, fortress-like Collegium Maius. This summer it is holding an exhibition of both kinds of objects, in a display called The scholar and his study. A good opportunity to see artists and scientists taking on their respective unequal challenges, and a good excuse, for those who need one, to visit Kraków.
Bob Haak (1923-2005) was an exceptionally inspiring art historian and museum man. His books on Rembrandt and the Dutch painters of the Golden Age are classics, and his work on the Amsterdam Historical Museum set new international standards for an enriched museum experience. Schwartz's question to him concerns the Rembrandt Research Project, which was his brainchild. Why hasn't it worked as he conceived it, as an instrument for deciding which paintings are by Rembrandt and which are not?
The Rembrandt Year 2006 is upon us. At work on a new book on Rembrandt, Schwartz reminisces about the book he edited for the Rembrandt Year 1969. As a publishing project, Horst Gerson's Rembrandt paintings was a great success. Such successes do not come out of the blue. Schwartz pays tribute to the man who conceived and sold the project, Willem Bloemena.
On 1 June 2005, the people of the Netherlands are being asked to vote Yes or No in a referendum on the proposed constitution of the European Union. The document claims that it is inspired by the culture of Europe, but the tone and quality of the text belies this. Schwartz sends the Framers back to the drawing board with a copy of the Constitution of the United States as a model for a new draft.
Het Financieele Dagblad has changed the format of the supplement in which the Dutch version of the Schwartzlist appears. To fill the first of the gaps this created, Schwartz passes on the surprise website to which he was treated at the last conference (the eighth) of <a href="htp://www.codart.nl/">CODART</a> that he attended as director.
The Dutch courts are overly lenient in punishing thefts from public museums in the Netherlands, which are on the rise. An anecdotal comparison between thefts from the Strawbery Banke museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam yields a ratio of ten to one between American versus Dutch sentencing. Because the prospect of a heavy sentence may induce a thief to help the police recover the loot, longer terms called for.
A Pope, appointed as he is for life, always makes you think of death. Schwartz meditates on the subject, while offering some good advice to the successor of John Paul II.
The Dutch children's book star Miffy is 50 years old this month. Her statue, by the son of the creator of Miffy, Dick Bruna, stands on a square in Utrecht. It is executed in bronze and stands on a granite socle. Only the hardest of hard materials can be used for outdoor art in the Netherlands. Schwartz worries about the extreme degree of vandalism in his adopted homeland.
The self-stated mission of the New Rijksmuseum, now under construction, is to "tell the story" of Dutch history and art. In doing so, the museum distances itself from the Number One museum in all other European countries and enters the realm of nationalistic institutions such as the Israel Museum, which mounts a markedly tendentious presentation of the local past.
The image of the Dutch past is now dominated by the Golden Age, especially as embodied in the work of artists like Johannes Vermeer. To people living then, for whom Dutch history was synonymous with the revolt against Spain, this would have been incomprehensible. Schwartz speculates on the next turn of the screw.
Over the course of the years, Schwartz's pleasure in taking the train from his local station in Maarssen has declined drastically. However, the station has risen immeasurably in his esteem now that he knows that it was here, in June 1845, that the Doppler effect was first demonstrated experimentally. In his new enthusiasm, he launches a plan to commemorate that event in art whenever a train passes the station.
The choice of subjects in a new exhibition of Dutch pictures from the British Royal Collection is compared with that in a 1971 predecessor to this show. Schwartz detects a shift from aristocratic sporting subjects to poor man's scenes from daily life. Until 30 October, the visitor can go from Buckingham Palace to Dulwich Picture Gallery to admire another royal collection, including splendid Dutch paintings. Assembled for the last king of Poland, it ended up, 20 years after his abdication, in a London suburb.
Two exhibitions of Dutch genre paintings take competing approaches to the interpretation of these irresistible depictions of everyday life. One show, in Haarlem and Hamburg, interprets them as moral warnings to the viewer; another, in Rotterdam and Frankfurt, sees them as nothing more than fun subjects. Schwartz introduces into the discussion the ideas of the literary historian René van Stipriaan, whose theories about farces for the stage open new possibilities for interpreting paintings as well.
The jacket image of the new summary illustrated catalogue of the Mauritshuis is the double portrait of Constantijn Huygens and his wife Suzanna van Baerle, Sterre. This brings back vivid memories of the acquisition of the painting by the Mauritshuis 13 years ago. Schwartz tells the inside story of his role in that coup, and that of the venerable Julius Held.
On the morning of New Years Day, the prolific historian Charles Boxer drafted a list of his writing and speaking commitments for the year, crossing each one off as he accomplished it. Schwartz resolves to do the same.
The Foundation for Prussian Palaces and Gardens has published a massive compendium of the easel paintings it lost during and after the Second World War. Most turn out not to have been destroyed, but misappropriated or taken off by the Russians as "trophy art." Schwartz stands up for the international conventions that prohibit taking cultural heritage as booty, no matter how just a war might be or how much one's own side has suffered.
Commemorating the death of two old friends in the past year, Schwartz thinks of experiences with them that changed his life. With Bob Cahn he learned a lesson in gentlemanliness and from Stuart Hampshire the importance of supporting institutions in which you believe. Putting these two things together goes some way toward a model for the good life in society, a better one than preaching to others about their deficient values.
In 1622 Jacques Callot published a suite of 25 etchings of beggars that established a more humane image of the vagabond than had been current until then. The title print of Callot's series is a lanky, insolent figure with a banner reading Capitano de Baroni. Schwartz hypothesizes that in Dutch eyes he would have been seen as a caricature of the "beggar" - the Dutch rebel - who was captain of the Barony of Breda. This was Justinus van Nassau, whom Callot was later to etch, and Velazquez to paint, as the vanquished commander of Breda.
To be creative is to do something for the first time. The chance of doing something worthwhile for the first time and doing it right is about the same as the chance of shooting a hole in one the first time one picks up a golf club. On the basis of this insight, Schwartz sketches a minor theory of creativity.
Dutch government subsidies for the arts are largely bundled in a single 4-year cycle called the Cultuurnota (Cultural Policy Document). After the closing of application for the Cultuurnota 2005-2008, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science changed the criteria for awards. A new distinction was drawn between "producing" and "supporting" institutions, with the latter being disadvantaged. Schwartz objects and argues for a postponement of the revision of the Cultuurnota until after 2008.
The papers are full of long stories on a short letter in the New England Journal of Medicine. The authors, Harvard neurobiologists, claim that his self-portraits contain certain evidence that Rembrandt was wall-eyed and that this had consequences for his artistry. Schwartz begs to differ. The scientists simply ignore a mass of material in which no such aberration is visible, and they fail to notice that similar effects as they observe in Rembrandt portraits can also be seen in self-portaits by others.
What price biographical discretion? To the renowned Dutch historian A. Th. van Deursen no price is too high. By glossing over the sex and violence in the life of Maurits van Nassau, one of the founders of the Dutch state, he forfeits the trust of the reader.
While the de-attribution of Rembrandt paintings makes headlines, drawings are removed from the master's oeuvre by carloads without much public attention. Schwartz reviews the situation in Dresden, on the occasion of a model exhibition of all the drawings in the Kupferstich-Kabinett that were ever assigned to the master.
Fleeing the offensive hypocrisy of the Olympics, Schwartz and Loekie travel to Wörlitz in Saxony-Anhalt, to the miraculous 18th-century Garden Kingdom of Prince Friedrich Franz of Anhalt-Dessau (1740-1817). There they discover that Wörlitz is touted as the place where the Olympic Games were first revived, in the 1770s. They keep their cool, and are rewarded, when they find the mysterious site, with an unforgettable experience.
The Gemeentemuseum in The Hague is showing a first-rate selection of modern French and Serbian art from the National Museum in Belgrade. Schwartz notes that more two-thirds of the displays come from the collection of the Jewish art dealer Erich Chlomovitch, who was killed by the Nazis. His heirs have never been recompensed for the 429 valuable items that have been in the museum for over 50 years. Schwartz is reminded of the case of the Dutch Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker.
At an exhibition in Amsterdam titled Urban Islam, the life styles and attitudes toward religion of young Muslims from around the world are presented with short films and attributes from daily life. Their real choices have less to do with faith than with how to dress. They seem more secular than young Americans. Can this be right?
In 1998, for an exhibition in Amsterdam and Paris, a team of art historians and archivists retraced Rembrandt's footsteps in six walks in and around Amsterdam. Following the trajectory of Walk IV, on the Amstel River, Schwartz realizes that Rembrandt's deepest wish was to have Holland all for himself.
The Rijksmuseum is consulting an array of outsiders in formulating its program for the New Rijksmuseum, which is to open in 2008. As a participant in the round-table discussion on "The Rijksmuseum and Dutch national identity," Schwartz advised the museum to focus instead on Dutch international identity. He attached to it a very concrete proposal for the presentation of Dutch and foreign art in the rebuilt museum art and an interpretation of the philosophy behind the Old Rijksmuseum.
Ethel Portnoy, a dear friend, died at the age of 77. She was an embodiment of American Europeanness, creating in the Netherlands an international but entirely Dutch literary personality. She had the precious writer's gift of giving readers a feeling that they were in her confidence.
The appearance of an outstanding collection of articles by his old friend Albert Blankert brings out sentimental recollections and upright admiration in Schwartz.
A good provenance is not supposed to add to the value of a work of art, but it does. The information that an object was once owned by someone with famous good taste is worth money on the auction block. A collection mainly of Dutch 18th-century drawings that partakes of this quality, coming up at Sotheby's Amsterdam on 19 May, is the Unicorno Collection, accumulated over the past 50 years by Saam and Lily Nijstad.
An art dealer who had an unhappy experience in attempting unsuccessfully to get the Van Gogh Museum to stand behind the attribution to van Gogh of a painting he owns has taken the unusual step of publishing his story in a book. Schwartz thinks that the museum can avoid issuing categorical rejections of htis kind and that in doing so could improve its relations with dealers and collectors.