A Warning from the Heart of Sin City; Once the Poured Their Puritan Faith into Glourious Works of Art.now,with the Same Fervour,amsterdam's Elite Are Destroying the Foundations of Civilised Socieity.it Is Alesson for Decent People Everywhere

Daily Mail (London), August 21, 1999 | Go to article overview
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A Warning from the Heart of Sin City; Once the Poured Their Puritan Faith into Glourious Works of Art.now,with the Same Fervour,amsterdam's Elite Are Destroying the Foundations of Civilised Socieity.it Is Alesson for Decent People Everywhere


Byline: ANTHONY DANIELS

WITHOUT doubt, Dutch painting of the 17th century is one of the greatest peaks of artistic achievement in all history, and at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam this month there is a still-life exhibition that amply illustrates that glorious past.

Outside the museum there is still-life of a different kind; chronic alcoholics lie sleeping in the broad passage between the west and south entrances to the magnificent museum.

They spread their mess and litter around them and when they wake, they shout abuse. No one moves them on, because to do so would be considered unacceptably moralistic and judgmental.

To go from the streets where the crowds congregate to queue for the exhibition is to pass from madness to sanity, from noise to tranquillity, from ugliness to beauty, and from barbarism - prosperous and high-tech, but barbarism nonetheless - to civilisation.

For me, the still-life paintings provide not only the starkest possible contrast with the new cultural identity the Dutch have chosen for themselves - one of utter permissiveness - but a welcome relief from it.

It isn't easy to say why, after more than three centuries, these paintings should retain the power to move the viewer so intensely.

The pictures vary from exuberantly colourful portrayals of bouquets of flowers, to austere depictions of items of daily use such as plates and knives: but all the objects painted are observed with a detail that could emerge only from a love of, and wonderment at, the beauty of Creation.

NOTHING is taken for granted. Even the humble salt herring is seen as an object of beauty - it was, of course, the staff of life in Holland.

All these paintings exemplify an attitude of respect for the world, even a religious awe of it. As the Dutch philosopher Erasmus wrote: 'Moreover, we are twice pleased when we see a painted flower competing with a living one.

In one we admire the artifice of Nature, in the other the genius of the painter, in each the goodness of God.' The contrast between this attitude and that of people attracted by the seedier aspects of modern Amsterdam could not be greater nor more depressing.

The astonishing tawdriness and vulgarity that is now one of the greatest tourist attractions of this city occurs in buildings that are themselves of supreme beauty: for the Dutch domestic architecture of the 17th and early 18th centuries has seldom been equalled and never surpassed.

The use to which these buildings are quite openly put is a disgraceful reflection on modern man and his utter lack of respect for the achievements of his forefathers.

Prostitutes occupy the famous full-length windows in cubicles that give out on to the streets, tapping on the glass with their rings to attract the custom of the passing crowds, who trudge mechanically by in search of some kind of sensation that they think will satisfy them.

There seems to be an area for fat prostitutes and thin - all tastes being catered for. Behind the prosti-

tutes - most of them imported from the Third World - one can see their beds.

When a customer arrives, a heavy curtain is drawn: the glass window and the curtain being all that separates the copulating couple from the crowds outside.

The presence of hundreds of coffee shops where cannabis is freely available - as well, increasingly, as hallucinogenic mushrooms - and whose philosophy is that individual self-indulgence is the height to which Man can aspire, does not create a happy or even jovial atmosphere.

On the contrary, the crowds look notably glum, as if liberation from restraint had not resulted in the expected happiness.

Indeed, such lack of restraint is not really a pleasure at all. It is mere obedience to convention rather than a spontaneous expression of joie de vivre - of which the still-life paintings are so powerful and intense an example.

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A Warning from the Heart of Sin City; Once the Poured Their Puritan Faith into Glourious Works of Art.now,with the Same Fervour,amsterdam's Elite Are Destroying the Foundations of Civilised Socieity.it Is Alesson for Decent People Everywhere
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