The Golden Age
Say "Dutch Art" and history will inevitably push itself to the forefront. With such a rich heritage, ranging from the Masters of the Golden Age (Rembrandt, Hals, van Eyck) to pioneers such as Vincent van Gogh, it is hard to escape the shadow that is cast by these giants from the past, in spite of the fact that Holland also has a vibrant contemporary art scene that produces some of the most exciting new artists of this generation.
The Dutch Golden Age was a period in Dutch history, roughly spanning the 17th century, in which Dutch trade, science, military, and art were among the most acclaimed in the world. It is mostly known as the period that produced the now world-famous works of Rembrandt and Vermeer, but if you would ever set out on a mission to see all of the Dutch Masters that were produced during this flourishing period, you would have your work cut out for you: in the two decades between 1640 and 1660, it is estimated that the Dutch painters collectively produced over 1.3 million paintings.
The Dutch masters were the pop stars of their time. The large volume of painting produced meant that prices were fairly low, bringing the possession of an oil painting within reach of the social classes that previously had no access to art at all. Like true rock stars, the "celebrity" masters could command very high prices for their works – and often did.
The irony is that many of these artists were not always appreciated in their time. Many artists who are now considered among the greatest of their time, such as Rembrandt, Hals and Vermeer had considerable problems earning a living, and had to take on second jobs to make ends meet. A lot of them ended up in a pauper's grave, with their deserved fame only catching up with them after another two to three centuries.
Today, the works of this golden age of Dutch art can be found in museums all over the world, but the Netherlands, of course, can still boast of the largest and most comprehensive collections, especially the famous Rijksmuseum, the most visited museum in the Netherlands with a record number of 2.2 million visitors a year. And in case you're just passing through, the Rijksmuseum has a small but excellent collection of Dutch Masters on display at its mini-sized gallery at Schiphol Airport as well.