Louvres: Northern European paintings

The Flemish and Dutch collections at the Musée du Louvre enjoy a new earthy charcoal backdrop in the Richelieu wing. The sombre tones echo the dark skies so popular in paintings from the Flanders province.


The Flemish and Dutch collections at the Musée du Louvre are settling in to their new surroundings in the Richelieu wing after the completion of a year-long renovation project. The updated display for 17th century Dutch paintings, which hang against a backdrop of earthy charcoal walls, really highlights the wealth and variety of the Louvre’s exhibition, which has grown considerably since its beginnings in the royal collection, enriched over time with further pieces donated or acquired.

On one side, there are the Southern Netherlands and the province of Flanders, and on the other, the Northern Netherlands, in Holland, which enjoyed a truly golden age in the 17th century.

In Holland, the wealthy middle classes commissioned intimate paintings to decorate their interiors. Rather than depicting portraits of the court, the artwork represented images of genre scenes, daily life, still life, landscapes and intimate or corporation portraits. The palette used by artists in the province of Holland was subtle, often monochrome, with shades of grey alluding to the Light of the North. Religious paintings were rare, but the main focus of landscapes was generally the sky, which took up the majority of the canvas. Still-life paintings appealed to the idea of fragile pleasures and the passage of time.

Rembrandt stood out as an exception to the movement. In his work, he brought together the sacred and the profane, depicting religious scenes as scenes of daily life and using his neighbours as models for Christ’s likeness. He portrayed the Holy Family as a typical family of carpenters. It is through his use of light and the use of chiaroscuro that these scenes are transcended to reveal the Divine. In the room dedicated to Rembrandt’s work also hang several impressive self-portraits (he painted about 100 images of himself), which reflect the various stages of his life.

Other rooms display further wonders, including the “fine painters” of Leiden, the “beau fini” of G. Dou and works from artists who travelled to Italy.

A quarter of a century after the Grand Louvre expansion project was completed, the museum’s curators, as instigated by the President-Director, Jean-Luc Martinez, are creating new layouts to present the collections. The Louvre of the 21st century, under constant renovation, seeks to surprise in order to meet the expectations of their public of art connoisseurs.

By Dauphine de Schonen