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Jan van Gool als kunstcriticus

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image of Oud Holland - Journal for Art of the Low Countries

In 1750 and 1751 Jan van Gool published two volumes of artists' biographies entitled De Nieuwe Schouburg (Note 2). This sequel to Houbraken's Groote Schouburgh (.Note I) is an important source for Dutch art history of the period around 1700. The author's opinions are not strictly governed by the rules of art theory, nor is he a convinced Classicist. His main aim is to give complete and reliable information on the lives and works of artists. In so doing he cannot refrain from giving personal opinions. These characterize him as a competent art critic, who seems to have had an eye for style and quality. He despises work by contemporaries who still adhere to the Leiden tradition of fijnschilderen (small-scale, highly-finished painting). In his view the composition of a painting is of prime importance in assessing its quality, for it is mostly there that an artist's inventiveness, or lack of it, is revealed. Another aspect of great importance is the expression of emotions in painted figures through their glances, gestures and attitudes. Van Gool praises not only history painters who prove to have abilities in this field, but also painters of genre scenes and portraits. He pays far more attention to a painter's brushwork than his style of drawing, his predilection being for masters with a 'courageous' brush. Relatively little attention is given to colour and light and to the plasticity of painted figures. Van Gool's ideals seem to be summed up in the word natural. The essential qualities of the subjects painted must be made visible in the work of art. A painstaking realism in the Leiden tradition would endanger this ideal as much as a severe Classicism. The observation of reality should not be carried so far that details become more important than totalities, but on the other hand the overall form should not be idealized to such an extent that reality is forgotten.


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