And yet M. Havard, who had a Frenchman’s eye and therefore knew, says that if Etna in full eruption were taken to Holland, at the end of the week it would have ceased even to smoke, so destructive to enthusiasm is the well-disciplined nature of the Dutch woman.
M. Havard referred rather to the women of the open country than the dwellers in the town. I can understand the rural coolness, for Holland is a land without mystery. Everything is plain and bare: a man in a balloon would know the amours of the whole populace. What chance has Cupid when there are no groves? But let Holland be afforested and her daughters would keep Etna burning warmly enough; for I am persuaded that it is not that they are cold but that the physical development of the country is against them.
Dutch art in the palmy days—The Renaissance—A miracle—What Holland did for painting—The “Night Watch”—Rembrandt’s isolation—Captain Franz Banning Cocq—Elizabeth Bas—The Staalmeesters—If one might choose one picture—Vermeer of Delft again—Whistler—“Paternal Advice”—Terburg—The romantic Frenchmen again—The Dutch painter’s ideal—The two Maris—Old Dutch rooms—The Six Collection—“Six’s Bridge” and the wager—The Fodor Museum.
The superlative excellence of Dutch painting in the seventeenth century has never been explained, and probably never will be. The ordinary story is that on settling down to a period of independence and comparative peace and prosperity after the cessation of the Spanish war, the Dutch people called for good art, and good art came. But that is too simple. That a poet, a statesman or a novelist should be produced in response to a national desire is not inconceivable; for poets, statesmen and novelists find their material in the air, as we say, in the ideas of the moment. They are for the most part products of their time. But the great Dutch painters of the seventeenth century were expressing no real idea. Nor, even supposing they had done so, is it to be understood how the demand for them should yield such a supply of unsurpassed technical power: how a perfectly disciplined hand should be instantly at the public service.
That Holland in an expansive mood of satisfaction at her success should have wished to see groups of her gallant arquebusiers and portraits of her eminent burghers is not to be wondered at, and we can understand that respectable painters of such pictures should arise in some force to supply the need—just as wherever in this country at the present day there are cricketers and actresses, there also are photographers. That painters of ordinary merit should be forthcoming is, as I have said, no wonder: the mystery is that masters of technique whose equal has never been before or since should have arisen in such numbers; that in the space of a few years—between say 1590 and 1635—should have been born in a country never before given to the cultivation of the arts Rembrandt and Jan Steen, Vermeer and De Hooch, Van der Helst and Gerard Dou, Fabritius and Maes, Ostade and Van Goyen, Potter and Ruisdael, Terburg and Cuyp. That is the staggering thing.