Dutch Light is a phenomenon that has its origins in 19th-century literature. Historians started writing about this special light that only seemed to exist in The Netherlands. It was widely believed that the phenomenon first showed up in 17th-century Dutch landscape paintings. As it turned out, the 17th-century artists who painted those pictures often also worked on other assignments that fit in with their artistic practice. When researching these artists more closely, historians discovered that most of these artists were also employed by the government. They had been assigned to study the Dutch landscape with the help of early measuring tools. And among many things, these studies led to some of the first maps showing the country as it is today.
The governmental research missions also gave the artists an opportunity to study the landscape in several aspects. During these studies, they experienced something special:
It was a distinct kind of light, not the bright equalizing sort of light that artists in the south of Europe were painting, neither was it comparable to the ever-changing light that one might find in Great Britain or Scandinavia. Intrigued by the phenomenon, they came up with an explanation: Because most of the Netherlands sits below sea level, it was first believed that the effect was created by the sea moving in and out of the land.
When word of Dutch Light spread through 19th-century writings, artists from all over the globe became enchanted by the light and came to the Netherlands to capture it in their paintings. These pilgrimages gave artists the perspective that it was not just the sea causing the effect, it was mainly the fact that the water was everywhere at once. And on top of that, it needed to be accompanied by sunlight. When these conditions were met, it created a “double landscape,” which magnified all things in its presence. Trees seemed to become greener, the sky looked especially blue and the red brick buildings seemed illuminated for a brief moment.
Unfortunately, “Hollands Licht” – or Dutch Light – is not easily found, especially in the ever-changing Dutch climate. Some of you who might have traveled to this fair country might have experienced days where grey clouds packed with rain, hail, or snow have been almost instantly replaced by sunlight. This is because most of the country is flat, and the wind is free to bring on rapid change. When the right conditions are met and if you are lucky, you might be able to see some Dutch Light.
Cleptomanicx took a group of their finest riders – Dennis Laass, Tjark Thielker, Niklass Speer von Cappeln and Jan Hoffmann – to the Dutch city of Groningen, to try and capture this fleeting moment when all the conditions are just right to create something special.
by Roland Hoogwater
Photos: Friedjof Feye