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 I wasn’t part of the House Team when the Picture Gallery was last open. Once the building works were finished and it was time to re-hang the paintings, it was a real treat to see them up close. Although some of them were exhibited in A New Light on Old Masters, it is amazing how much one forgets. The detail in the collection is fabulous, and this really struck me in one painting in particular.

A painting in our Picture Gallery, on a 40cm by 30cm oak panel, has amazing detail. The Duet, ‘Le Corset Bleu’, by Gabriel Metsu, a Dutch artist, really caught my eye and made me have a closer look.

Gabriel Metsu (1629-67), The Duet (‘Le Corset Bleu’)
Gabriel Metsu (1629-67), The Duet (‘Le Corset Bleu’)

Looking closely, the detail on the woman’s dress, the fine glass on the table, and the detail of the dog, is amazing for a relatively small painting. You can see the painting glisten as you stand and admire it.

Metsu was an artist of the 17th Century, the so-called Dutch Golden Age. In 1648 Jan Steen and Gabriël Metsu founded the painters’ Guild of Saint Luke at Leiden, and Metsu continued to be influenced by Steen. Interestingly, we have 4 Steen paintings in the Long Gallery. They sit quite unassumingly on the walls between the windows. It seems I may have to go and take a closer look at them…

The Sense of Hearing by Jan Steen

The Sense of Hearing by Jan Steen

When we were re-hanging the painting, we found some interesting labels from various exhibitions the painting had been to, and two labels whilst it was in Lord Bearsted’s ownership. In 1929 it went to An Exhibition of Dutch Art at the Royal Academy of Arts. In 1945 it went to Masterpieces of Dutch Paintings in the 17th Century. Many of our paintings have these details on the back; they highlight the significance of the collection, and explain why so many requests are received for them to be included in both national and international exhibitions.

When I was admiring the painting with one of our volunteers, Nicci, she pointed out that the painting contains so many different materials – glass, the satin skirt, the ermine-edged jacket, the spaniel in the foreground, the textile on the table, and the background of the fireplace and two pillars. Was this intentional? Why did the artist do it?

Being struck by a painting out of the corner of my eye I went looking for answers and I have only discovered more questions. What more is there to find out? Now the Picture Gallery is open again, I’m really looking forward to listening to volunteer stories and learn even more about the collection.