A shift in the European mind is taking hold. The stable democracies of Germany and the Netherlands contrast sharply with an unstable France and a demagogic Italy. The northern tier has an increasing authority, politically and culturally. Art historically, the Amsterdam–Berlin axis challenges the hegemony of the Paris–Rome accord. The reopening of the Rijksmuseum in 2013 after ten years of closure brought Amsterdam back as a major centre of the European imagination. The ‘new’ Rijks, restored by the Spanish architects Cruz y Ortiz, is a miracle of coherence and has placed The Golden Age of Dutch Painting of the seventeenth century, primus inter pares with the national schools of the period. The Dutch changed and reordered the categories of painting. Landscape and still life took their independent paths; genre painting and cityscapes became widely practised; interiors, domestic, and ecclesiastical, as well as marine painting, won new practitioners and collectors; the double or paired portrait added new life to portraiture, as did the group portrait of merchants and militia. All became part of the body politic of Western art.
Last year I had another revelation, humbler but no less telling. I revisited the Kröller-Müller for the first time in thirty years. It looked tired curatorially – too many minor pictures undercut the major works. What transfixed me this time, however, was the Hoge Veluwe National Park – fifty-five square kilometres of it surrounding the museum, formerly the Kröller-Müller’s hunting estate. By a bonne chance our tour fell through. The company scrambled and found someone to drive us the eighty kilometers from Amsterdam in his Mercedes limo. Theo, who knows and loves the Park, drove us extensively through it on our way back. An historically preserved landscape, sparingly logged and cultivated, the sandy dunes, scruffy woodlands, and open heath instantly recall the landscapes of Hobbema. His rutted roads are gone, but the tangled waterways and gnarled oaks are still in situ. As the light falls on an autumn afternoon, you pass through a seventeenth-century landscape.