photo: Judy Ferrara
Photo Credit: Tracy Raphaelson



May 2005

"Paintings were popular in the Golden Age [17th-century]. They could be found in every home, whether it was lived in by the ruling elite, the middle class or country folk."
Marleen Dominicus, Rijksmuseum: The Masterpieces.

Amsterdam Acrostic

While searching for a way to organize this month's journal about our six day visit to Amsterdam, a light clicked when I thought about using an acrostic. So, here are nine focal points of the trip that has been a dream up until now for John and me.

Art is Amsterdam and Amsterdam is art. There are 35 museums of all kinds listed on a free map ( Not surprisingly, it was the art museums that were the primary draw. The prospect of seeing work by Rembrandt and van Gogh made me endure the miserable Argonne anti-jet lag diet for four days prior to leaving, so that I would not have to waste one moment. However, I have come to appreciate more the surprises most places have to offer, such as the modern sculptures interspersed among the tulip and hyacinth beds of Keukenhof in Lisse, about 30 minutes from Amsterdam.

Mobility = bicycles. Never have we been in a city that is dominated by bicycles. The sight of a bicycle garage next to the train station will be one that we will not soon forget. Thousands of bicycles side by side. One effect is that Amsterdam felt on the surface like a quieter, saner place. Few cars, a trolley, bus and subway system that takes you where you need to go: any museum is easily accessible.

Stedelijk, Amsterdam's modern art museum has moved to a temporary location near Central Station while the building is being renovated. The challenge curators faced was to have an exhibition that would continue to attract visitors to its modern art collection (think MoMA in Queens). "Leporello: A tour through the collection, 1874-2004" features a painting from each year that represents their collection, with pieces lent by private collectors. We saw Dutch paintings by painters whose names we did not recognize. Not that the Stedelijk collection lacks international breadth (Jackson Pollack, Paul Cézanne, Alberto Giacometti each represented a year), but it was interesting to see work from painters I would like to learn more about, such as Josef and Isaac Israëls and Maria Lassnig.

Tulips and other bulbs are on display by the millions during April and May at Keukenhof, and the park with its pavillions is everything you might imagine. Surrounding the park are fields- long wide expanses of purples, reds, pinks, yellows and whites. Imagine a space larger than a football field boasting a singular display of purple hyacinths with an occasional breeze delivering the scent to you. We learned from our tour guide that a tulip bulb was given to a Dutch aristocrat by a Turkish sultan. The aristocrat went crazy for it, making tulips the "hot item" everyone had to have. People paid thousands for one bulb, more than for a house. The government had to step in to control the madness. Now the Dutch export over 90% of the bulbs they cultivate.

Egon Schiele. Now what would this Austrian Expressionist painter's work have in common with Vincent van Gogh? Schiele's most famous work is figurative: erotic, tortured, angry and full of death. However, his landscapes and cityscapes are special songs of structure and color. The Schiele exhibition was the first ever to be organized in the Netherlands, and the curators selected works which show van Gogh's influence on Scheile. One example, his "Artist's Room in Neulengbach" was inspired by van Gogh's "Bedroom." The museum collaborated with Marina Abramovic and Krisztina de Chatel in a series of dance performances, one of which we saw. No music. Large lucite boxes on the floor. Two dancers in flesh-colored body suits splattered with red. A mother with her baby in a stroller stopped to watch the dancers' tortured contortions. Once the pre-verbal baby caught sight of them, she could not stop looking. Every once in a while, she would call out, "Ma" with a quizzical note. It was a dramatic example of dance's non-verbal expression holding everyone spellbound, regardless of age. Success. No words. No music. Simple raw emotion told by two bodies.

Rembrandt's house, purchased by him in 1639, is grand by any standard. When he went bankrupt in 1656, a notary drew up a detailed list of his possessions for auction. This must have been difficult for Rembrandt, but lucky for us because the house is restored with antiques that closely match his furnishings, as well as others' artwork, which he sold out of his house. What surprised us was Rembrandt's collection room, filled with objects he used in his paintings and etchings. It is known as the first museum. And, (I am not ashamed of this), I stood in Rembrandt's studio in the spot where he painted. John even took two pictures of me. Why not? It's absorbing art history at its best.

De Oude Kerk is Amsterdam's oldest monument (1250). It is no longer a working church, but has stained glass windows, lots of tombstones and a Vater-Müller organ. In a side gallery was a contemporary art exhibit. I can imagine what it is like to be an artist in the city dominated by van Gogh and Rembrandt.

Ambitiously-that is how we approached our six days. Prior to leaving, John and I listed everything we wanted to experience: the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, a canal tour, the Stedelijk Museum, the Anne Frank Secret Annex, the tulip fields, the Hermitage Amseterdam, the FOAM Museum of Photography, De Oude Kerk, the flower barges, and the Patisserie Pompadour. So, we planned, planned, planned and walked, walked, walked.

Modernity and tradition are a special mixture in Amsterdam. Renzo Piano's NEMO, a science center that sits in the harbor, is one example of the city's appreciation for new forms in architecture. The homes and businesses in the 17th century buildings along the canals acknowledge Amsterdam's prosperous past.

NEXT MONTH...I will be exploring rocks, a recurring symbol in my paintings. So far, I have fourteen pieces in which rocks play an important part. You can view a few of them in Gallery Chapters Two and Three. Contact me at for more about travel and the creative process.