Georges Rouzeau - 2012-01-16
Only twenty minutes by train from Amsterdam, Haarlem is one of the capital’s posh suburbs. The city’s Frans Hals Museum presents an exhibition dedicated to celebrations during the Dutch Golden Age. Running through 6 May, the show is best enjoyed in tandem with its irresistibly charming host city.
Haarlem, capital of the province of North Holland, is located 20 km west of Amsterdam, not very far from the coast and the seaside resort town of Zandvoort. Naturally, the small city’s name rings a bell: it was in 1658 that Peter Stuyvesant established a Dutch settlement on the isle of Manhattan and called it Nieuw Haarlem, the very same New Haarlem that was to become the famous Harlem quarter of New York.
Travel to the ‘double-A Haarlem’ from Amsterdam via the Netherlands’s very first rail line - inaugurated in 1839 - takes a mere seventeen minutes. Haarlem is a prosperous and alluring suburb, and with its Frans Hals Museum – in homage to one of the great Dutch painters of the 17C – the town is graced with a top-rate cultural institution. Open in 1913 within the walls of a former alms-house and orphanage, the museum is currently holding a magnificent show: Celebrating the Golden Age.
‘Celebration’ was certainly one of the favourite art themes of the 17C - so much so that Dutch painting is often associated with this theme. In museums the world over, there are countless works by Dutch masters featuring banquets, weddings, village fairs and festivals as well as scenes of Christmas, Epiphany and Whitsun.
The exhibition features around sixty paintings, including works by some of the most renowned artists of this fertile period such as Jan Steen, one of the very finest painters of the genre. In his Fair at Warmond, one can make out plenty of risqué details, including a squatting woman in the foreground who is clearly urinating - an allusion to one of Rembrandt’s compositions. A later version, likely commissioned by a priggish collector, puts a jug in her hands, thus changing the meaning of the scene.
Nearby, the famous Haarlem School is naturally very well-represented with painters such as Willem Pietersz. Buytewech, Esaias Van de Velde and Dirck Hals. But the show does not focus exclusively on the illustrative celebration of feasts and fun; indeed, several of the works have an allegorical angle or are simply enigmatic. This is true of Isaac Elias’s Celebrating Company (1629), whose participants seem to await the Last Judgement... unless Elias is criticising the seduction of the five senses with those grave, rapt faces. Celebrating the Golden Age is a fascinating exhibition whose works can be interpreted on many different levels.
De Hallen Haarlem
At the foot of the St. Bavo Cathedral, Haarlem’s De Hallen museum is a superb collection of three Gothic edifices, the first of which dates from 1602. Associated with the Frans Hals Museum, De Hallen is dedicated to contemporary art with an emphasis on photography and video art. Definitely worth a visit, notably for the interior design and original details.
The town of Haarlem
Typical of Batavia with its canals, old hospices, flower-filled streets and streams of bicycles, Haarlem turns on the charm from the first impression and is worth more than just a one-day return ticket from Amsterdam. The train station is one of the city’s not-to-be-missed buildings. Constructed between 1905 and 1908 and classified as a national historic monument, it is the Netherlands’s only Art Nouveau station.
Lulled by chimes, enchanted by the poetry of red brick, fascinated by the rigour and serenity glimpsed through the uncurtained windows of Dutch homes, the visitor vows to come back and visit one day, or maybe even to move here. A common dream when travelling, is it not?
Via Eurostar, the journey from London to Amsterdam with a connection in Brussels takes around 4.5 hours. The Amsterdam-Haarlem by rail takes 17 minutes station to station; there are 8 trains per hour.
There are also many air links from the UK and Europe to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, as well as ferries from Newcastle to nearby Ijmuiden via DFDS Seaways.
Where to stay
Golden Tulip Lion d’Or
2011 LC Haarlem
Tel: (31) 023 5321750
Located opposite the train station and less than ten minutes from the historic centre, this hotel offers sober but very comfortable rooms from € 98/£ 82.
Parels eten & drinken
Oude Groenmarkt 8
2011 HL Haarlem
Tel: (31) 023 5329251
This pleasing restaurant boasts a fine terrace near the St. Bavon basilica and serves international cuisine with a focus on dishes from Italy. Excellent soundtracks. Fixed-price menus from € 18/ £ 15.
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