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Lunch concert at Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam

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by Carol Moore

Imagine getting a weekly fix of culture through a wonderful mix of music and talented performances? And to top it off, this is for FREE. Yes, free is a word we don’t always associate with pleasant experiences, but this has got to be one of the (not so now!) best kept secrets of highbrow entertainment in Amsterdam.

Each Wednesday – always check online schedule for up to date info: (, Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam, which has been in action since 1881, gives the city and its people a free half hour concert which can range from small intimate performances from between 1-3 people to a full classical orchestra of up to 50 people, which has included the Netherlands National Youth Orchestra amongst others. These take place in one of the following spaces: Kleine Zaal (small room), for me my favourite since it is adorned with sumptuous dark red velvet drapes, glistening chandeliers that cast a beautiful light onto the light beige marble walled interior and provides the listener a luxurious experience whilst watching the performance. And the second: Grote Zaal (big room), which is normally reserved for the large full orchestra type performances, complete with an impressive dark wooden floor to ceiling organ.


It’s a simple and straightforward procedure to obtain your free ticket for entry to the concerts. Since they always start promptly at 12.30pm, you must be there at 11.30am when the desk opens to dispense. This is however only for concerts in the small room, as when there are those in the big room it’s not necessary since its capacity is close to 2000 people (wow!) Once this step is complete, I find it a lovely little time filler to walk over to the adjoining restaurant/café to grab a nice cup of coffee. It’s always bustling with people, but on each occasion, I have been greeted and helped rather well by the staff, who are happy to accommodate you wherever possible.

Around 12.15pm it’s time to go to the concert. It’s easy to find your seat and once complete, I like to savour the buzz and surroundings. Everyone chatters excitedly with expectation of how the performers will sound and what they will play. The lights dim, drapes close and the performers are on stage to an encouraging round of rapturous applause. There are diverse types of instruments played but my favourite would have to be the grand piano, violin and harp together.

30 minutes absolutely flies by but at the end, you’re left with a warm, grateful feeling that you have just been privy to some of the most talented, quite often still very young, performers in the Netherlands, and again – for free!

Highly recommendable and a pleasure each time. Just don’t tell everyone about it ?

Gouda Cheese – the yellow motor?

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By Sue Godsave

The Dutch are big cheese eaters – eating cheese on bread for breakfast and lunch, cheese cubes as a snack with a drink at the end of the afternoon, and grated cheese over the macaroni for dinner – all adding up to an average of around 20 kg per person per year.

The Dutch cheese eaten the most, both in the Netherlands and abroad, is Gouda cheese, or ’Goudse kaas’, so-named because cheese produced in Holland had to be traded in the city of Gouda.  Gouda-type cheese has been made and traded since the middle ages, and is reputedly one of the oldest cheeses still being made today. Traditional cheese markets are also still being held, but these days mainly as a colourful tourist attraction, acted out on different mornings of the week in Gouda and several other Dutch towns during the summer months.

Gouda cheese changes as it matures to give a range of textures and flavours, but in general it can be characterised as relatively sweet. During production, the curds are washed with warm water after the milk has separated into curds and whey. This causes some of the milk sugar, lactose, to be washed away, and reduces the formation of lactic acid in the cheese, so Gouda cheese tastes less sour than cheddar, for example.  The washed curds are shaped in moulds, and the resulting ‘wheel-shaped’ cheeses are soaked in brine for several days before they are allowed to mature. This process extracts some of the water from the cheese, aids ‘skin’ formation and acts as a preservative, as well as giving extra flavour.  Nowadays, Gouda cheese is made in the traditional Dutch way all around the world, in countries including the USA, China, New Zealand and South Africa. However, only cheese made in the Netherlands can be labelled ‘Gouda Holland’, and for a cheese to be called ‘Noord-Hollandse Goudse’ all stages of the production process have to be carried out in the province of North Holland.

There are six categories of Gouda cheese depending on the length of the maturation period:

‘jonge kaas’, matured for only 4 weeks, and a soft, very mild and creamy ‘young’ cheese;

‘jong belegen’, matured for 8-10 weeks, and still fairly soft, but with a stronger flavour;

‘belegen’, matured for 16-18  weeks, a ‘mature’ cheese with a firmer texture;

‘extra belegen’, matured for 7-8 months;

‘oude kaas’, ‘old cheese’, matured for 10-12 months, and a tasty, hard cheese that may contain crystals, principally of calcium lactate;

‘overjarige’, ‘over-aged’, matured for at least 12 months.

The majority of Dutch cheese is factory-made these days, but some Gouda-type cheese is still made on farms. Unlike the factory-made cheese, this ‘boerenkaas’ is made from unpasteurised fresh milk. Different batches of farmers’ cheese may vary, depending on the farm and the conditions at the time, but farmers’ cheese generally has extra flavour.  Seeds or spices are also sometimes added to factory-made and farmers’ Gouda cheese – Gouda with cumin seeds is particularly good, and you can also find it with cloves or mustard seeds.

You need about ten litres of milk to make a kilogram of Gouda cheese and the finished product is high in protein, fat, and calcium, as well as being an important source of vitamins B12 and K. It is about 40% water, and contains almost no carbohydrate. The fat in Gouda cheese contributes significantly to its flavour and good melting qualities. Normally, between 48 and 52% of the dry weight of factory-made Gouda is fat, and it is labelled ‘48+’ to show this. The dry weight percentage is used because it doesn’t change during maturation, while the water content decreases. In a young 48+ cheese, about 29% of the total weight is fat.

Around two thirds of the fat in Gouda cheese is saturated, and concerns about eating too much saturated fat have led to the development of lower fat cheeses, labelled e.g. 20+ or 30+, the plus again indicating the fat content in the dry weight. There is also graskaas, made from the milk of cows which have eaten the new spring grass in the meadows. This cheese may contain a higher proportion of unsaturated fats, including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may even help to protect against heart disease.

Every Dutch supermarket has a big selection of Gouda cheese but for something special you should try a specialist market stall or shop, where you may be able to taste the cheese before you buy. In Amsterdam, there are helpful staff and samples of many different Dutch cheeses in the combined Cheese Museum and shop on the Prinsengracht, where the photo at the top was taken. There are even shops where you can buy Gouda cheese that is coloured blue, green and red (though I prefer it yellow).

In the Netherlands, milk has been described as the ‘white motor’, and more than 12 billion kilograms are produced here each year. More than half of this is turned into cheese, both for home consumption and export. Dutch Gouda cheese comes in a range of consistencies and flavours, and if you’re new to the Netherlands, you might be surprised at how good it can be.

90 years of Marilyn Monroe Exhibition

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by Carol Moore

Having just been to see the exhibition at the Nieuwe Kerk of celebrating what would have been Marilyn Monroe’s 90th birthday, I thought it a rather poignant topic in which to highlight the life and challenges that being a female in society brings.

Marilyn, whose real name of Norma Jean Baker began life in a rather squalid, turbulent way. Born in 1926, she was given away by her natural mother to foster parents and subsequently appeared to have had the burden of growing up too fast thrust upon her. She even married her next door neighbour so as not to have to return to the orphanage again. What a young person goes through and experiences as such an early age most definitely shapes them for their later years and who they will become. But it isn’t always doom and gloom that must repeat itself, as often, this kick-starts a desire to win, in whatever shape or form, but almost certainly, a catalyst to prove others wrong.

Marilyn was determined to fulfill her lifelong ambition of becoming a successful actress from an early age and became fascinated by Hollywood, glamour and the influence and adulation she saw they received. Perhaps as a contrast to her own lack of attention from an adolescent, she soon realised that she would show the world she meant business. In an age back then where women were not equal to men, she marilyn-2was famously quoted as saying “I have too many fantasies to be a housewife.” Something which back then would have caused great controversy but also as we see now, as others have done too, provide huge inspiration to many females. She also decided to work out, lifting weights, which was abhorrently unheard of, in order to perfect and maintain her wonderful physique. I often wonder if she had been an icon in our modern times, if so many of my friends and acquaintances might not have suffered the negative body image that is placed upon us when seeing the emaciated look of the so called international catwalk models, whose body shape almost most of us will never match.

She threw caution to the wind and became a movie star, albeit a not very successful one initially, but like so many things that we try and fail with, she continued with a strong will and conviction, which eventually paid off. She was reported as quoting “If I had observed all the rules, I’d never have gotten anywhere.” We must take note from this and realise that we make our own destiny in life and if we just keep trying and ignore the haters, it will eventually pay off.

Having married and divorced at an early age, she later went on to marry Joe De Maggio, a famous US sports star, however this wasn’t to last as he all too soon he became very controlling, jealous and resentful of her popularity and success. “I don’t mind living in a man’s world, as long as I can be a woman in it” became a key statement for her as she edged towards equaling the male Hollywood stars of that time. How often do we see even now, the challenges of being a female in the workplace balanced with having children, perhaps taking a career break to raise them and returning to the same position as your male counterpart? It seems that although she was living in times gone by, the same challenges are still very much alive.

marilyn-3What we, as women (and every gender in fact) must take from this, is that “Fear is stupid. So are Regrets.” The fear of not having dared try something has hit me many a time and have missed out on trying or doing something, which looking back, would have been just fine! Personally speaking, it took me 6 years to pluck up the courage to go to the cinema alone. My fear was that “people would stare,” or that others would think I was a loner. Having done this for the past 6 years now, my only regret was not having done this earlier!

If we try and follow her motto of “I live to succeed, not to please you or anyone else” we won’t go far wrong. And I personally have taken many key learnings from this wonderfully stylish, powerful, yet gentle woman.

Highly recommend anyone looking to spend an hour strolling around the exhibition to go for it and who knows, you might take your own life lessons from it. Closes February 2017. 

An unforgettable experience

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The Kroller Muller Museum is situated in the middle of the Hoge Veluwe National Park, about an hour’s drive from Amsterdam. It is a unique experience with a combination of art, nature and architecture and a place where things of beauty come together to guarantee a truly unforgettable visit.


The experience is a paradise for seasoned art lovers and newcomers and nowhere else in the world is the enjoyment of art so intense, due to the phenomenal collection of art and it’s beautiful location surrounded by nature. There are more than 400,000 visitors a year and it is one of the most popular museums in the Netherlands.


The Kroller Muller Museum is a second home to works by Vincent Van Gogh and home to top works by modern masters including Claude Monet, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondriaan. The museum boasts almost 90 paintings and more than 180 drawings. Other temporary exhibitions also ensure that the museum keeps pace with the latest developments to ensure it retains public interest.


webimage-A1E9A8C5-9317-40A0-9B03F7774DC3ADBAOne of the largest private collections of the 20th century is the life work of Helene Kroller Muller as between 1907 and 1922 with her husband Anton Kroller they bought almost 11,500 works of art. It was Helene’s dream to have her own ‘museum house’ a place where she could share her passion of modern art with other art lovers and she fulfilled her dream in 1938.

The Museum is situated in the Hoge Veluwe Park which has 5,500 hectares of forest, heaths and grasslands which is the natural habitat for deer, mouflon and wild boar. While visiting the park you can roam freely by foot or with the free white bicycles that are available. On a visit, you will find one of the finest treasure troves to be found in the Netherlands and it will not disappoint you as it has everything it takes to give its visitors a unique and unforgettable experience.


Victoria Wood

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Fond girly giggles by Alison Smith


If God had meant them to be lifted and separated, He would have put one on each shoulder.


We’d like to apologise to our viewers in the north…………it must be awful for them.


A man is designed to walk three miles in the rain to phone for help when the car breaks down, and a woman is designed to say, “You took your time” when he comes back dripping wet.


A minor operation is one performed on somebody else.


Sexual harassment at work… is it a problem for the self-employed?


People think I hate sex. I don’t. I just don’t like things that stop you seeing the television properly.


All my friends started getting boyfriends, but I didn’t want a boyfriend, I wanted a thirteen-colour biro.


I once went to one of those parties where everyone throws their car keys into the middle of the room. I don’t know who got my moped but I’ve been driving that Peugeot for years.


The first day I met my producer, she said, “I’m a radical feminist lesbian.” I thought what would the Queen Mum do? So I just smiled and said, “We shall have fog by tea-time.”


I thought Coq au Vin was love in a lorry.


I’ve got a degree, does that mean I have to spend my life with intellectuals? I’ve also got a life-saving certificate, but I don’t spend my evenings diving for a rubber brick with my pyjamas on.


My boyfriend had a sex manual but he was dyslexic. I was lying there and he was looking for my vinegar.


It will be a traditional Christmas, with presents, crackers, door slamming and people bursting into tears, but without the dead thing in the middle. We’re vegetarians.


Life’s not fair, is it? Some of us drink champagne in the fast lane, and some of us eat our sandwiches by the loose chippings on the A597.


My children won’t even eat chips because some know-all bastard at school told them a potato was a vegetable.


When I told jokes about cystitis, people would write in and say, “I’ve got cystitis and it isn’t funny,” so I would reply, “Well, send it back and ask for one that is.”



The Spanish Masters | Hermitage, Amsterdam

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AlisonBy Alison Smith


5f8b2e9ad29af152e7a15c3ede46430bI love the sense of calm I always get when I enter the courtyard of  The Hermitage in Amsterdam.  It’s as though the bustle and rush of the canals outside suddenly switch off and you can hear the birds sing.  The same sense of calm pervades the Hermitage building.  I was there last Saturday, too early for tourism to ruin the peace, and just in time for an early lunch with my Zine colleague, Dave Thomas, followed by a leisurely wander around the exhibition of  The Spanish Masters, which is currently showing until 29th May 2016.

There was a choral concert going on somewhere in the building as we kept getting a waft of sweet voices as we ate lunch.  The Hermitage has a lovely café where even the self-service section serves decent food.  Despite most tables being full, there was an air of calm and the low buzz of polite conversation, which makes you feel like you should also chat in hushed, civilised tones.  Not the place for a raucous, boozy lunch, but that wasn’t what we had in mind, so we tucked into freshly made sandwiches and tried not to slurp our soup too loudly.

Onwards to the exhibition, and I was curious to see how it would be presented as the information booklet mentioned Spanish artists mostly from The Golden Age, with a smattering of Picasso via Goya.  Quite a span of time to cover then.


The introductory rooms build up the picture of a Spain moving away from Moorish influences in a religious sense but shows how art continued to reflect the highly elaborate and intricate patterns seen on Moorish architecture and interior design. There is a lovely painting, typical of El Greco, of two long-faced apostles, which is worth a look.


Onward to the Great Hall and the main part of the exhibition concentrates on the Golden Age and the period in Spanish art history where to be noticed by the royal court you had to paint religious themes and the more pain, suffering and piety shown on the faces of the saints, the better.  This part of the  exhibition hall is divided into the four major schools that emerged at that time, each with at least one  Master at the helm; Murillo and Zurbaràn in Seville, Ribalta in Valencia, Pereda in Madrid, and Giordano and Ribera in Naples (Yes, these were the days when Naples was considered to be part of Spain)

Compared to the paintings in the introductory section, it was interesting to see how art moved away from the static, frieze-like depictions of religious morality to more realistic, rounded portrayals of human anatomy, albeit still fixed in religious fervour.  Then along came Velàzquez, whose paintings and influence makes up the fifth part of the main hall exhibition.  Velàzquez is shown to be the maverick painter, the rebel who chose to paint real people in their everyday lives and break away from the religious themes.  He paints the guys at the local bar, wrinkles and all.  I love a good maverick story and the art world is full of them.  Painters who refused to conform to the order of the day.  Velàzquez’s faces aren’t marble-like creations of impossible beauty but careworn workers faces with lines on their skin and blemishes and imperfections.

WOA_IMAGE_1Upstairs and the time moves on quickly.  We cut to Goya, albeit briefly, and the exhibition has some of his interesting and best political etchings. He is known for his depiction of violent scenes and the etchings on show “Los desastres de la guerra” (The disasters of war) record the horrors of the Napoleonic War and leave you under no illusions as to his opinion of the savage cruelty which took place. There is one Goya painting, a rather sad but beautiful portrait of an actress who died shortly after he finished the painting.  Being a big fan of Goya, I was a bit disappointed not to find more examples of his work.

From Goya we pass on to more romantic paintings with traditional Spanish subject matter. Matadors in elaborate, brightly coloured costumes and Spanish ladies in traditional lace. Not much flow here but an interesting introduction of colour and light techniques and obvious influences from other artists such as Ingres and Toulouse Lautrec.  It points out that the artists were international travellers who were influenced by what was developing in the art world of foreign salons.  Brush strokes become bolder and the style more abstract.

The exhibition ends with Picasso, a true Spanish Master, though the collection on show isn’t his best work.  It gives a taste, which is how I would describe the exhibition.  It’s a taste of Spanish art through the ages.  For more detail, I’d have to direct you to Madrid…or the Hermitage in St Petersburg, which apparently has more Spanish art outside of Spain than any other country.

Entrance is € 17,50 for adults and € 2,50 with a Museumkaart.  Your ticket also gives you a free audio tour, an optional music tour and entrance to the Portrait Gallery of the Dutch Golden Age which is running concurrently.  Not bad value for money and The Hermitage is always a joy to visit.

Hermitage Exhibition Website
Spanish Masters from the Hermitage. The World of El Greco, Ribera, Zurbarán, Velázquez, Murillo & Goya

The exhibition features masterpieces such as The Apostles Peter and Paul (1587–92) by El Greco, Velázquez’s Portrait of the Count Duke of Olivares (c. 1638), Murillo’s Immaculate Conception (c. 1680) and Goya’s Portrait of the Actress Antonia Zárate (1810–11), in addition to paintings by their pupils and later painters, up and including Picasso. Together they tell the story of the rise and glory of Spanish art in the Golden Age, which would continue to influence art into modern times.


By Alison Smith


I was looking forward to the Edvard Munch exhibition, currently showing at the van Gogh Museum until 17th January 2016, as his work was being compared to that of van Gogh and I wasn’t aware of the similarities.  I booked an early slot to avoid the queues and signed up for the audio tour.  I had been to an earlier exhibition at the same museum which showed the influences of Jean Francois Millet on van Gogh. Van Gogh reproduced Millet’s scenes almost exactly, but used his own technique and palette (think of The Gleaners, The Sower and Noonday Rest)  but I always thought that Munch was more influenced by German expressionism and I wasn’t really aware of similar subject matter, so I went  prepared to be convinced.

The two self portraits, which are presented as an introduction to the exhibition, show Munch and van Gogh in a similar pose, the artist at work, staring out of the canvas, palette and brushes in their right hand.  If you Google “self portrait with palette” you will find that many famous artists painted self portraits in this very pose; Edouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Rembrandt van Rijn. So why was I still looking at these two paintings and privately nodding my head? Stylistically, these two portraits are not obviously similar.  Munch’s loose style and thin paint versus van Gogh’s meticulous layering of paint and build up of colour.  It is something in their eyes. A similar expression. Both van Gogh and Munch frown at you with a look of pain and confusion in their eyes.  But more of that later.

The basement floor of the exhibition takes you through the “How” of the link between these two artists.  How did they hone their skills?  What were their influences in common? One answer which looms large is PARIS.

Detail of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, left, compared with Vincent Van Gogh’s The Bridge at Trinquetaille. The artists’ work is being shown in a joint exhibition in Amsterdam. Photograph: Reuters

Detail of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, left, compared with Vincent Van Gogh’s The Bridge at Trinquetaille. The artists’ work is being shown in a joint exhibition in Amsterdam. Photograph: Reuters

Both painters went to Paris to learn new techniques and soak up the bohemian life. In fact they were in Paris at the same time for a short while, though they never met.  Here we see not only similarities of subject matter but also style and technique as they both dabbled in the new techniques of realism, impressionism, pointillism and portraiture, following painters like Manet, Seurat and Gaugin.  Both painters were clearly influenced by Gaugin’s use of colour to express emotion through paint.

As you progress through the exhibition more similarities in subject matter and use of colour emerge, though their techniques and style diverge. Van Gogh’s ‘Yellow House and Edvard Munch’s ‘Red Virginia Creeper could be compared for their use of vibrant colour. Munch’s ‘Kissing Couples in the Park is very similar to van Gogh’s ‘Garden with Courting Couples and it’s clear that Munch felt an affinity with van Gogh’s work. Their techniques remained worlds apart though as Munch adapted a much looser, expressionistic style, using thin paint and vague shapes to depict human forms next to Van Gogh with his meticulous layering of paint to create texture and his more precise brush strokes, loading the canvas with thick dabs of colour.  Van Gogh believed that practice made perfect and often made many versions of a painting before he was satisfied.  Munch, on the other hand, sometimes didn’t paint the whole canvas, leaving parts of it “unfinished”.

Vincent van Gogh’s The Yellow House (1888); and Red Virginia Creeper (1898-1900), by Edvard Munch Photograph: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam/ Munch-Museet, Oslo

Vincent van Gogh’s The Yellow House (1888); and Red Virginia Creeper (1898-1900), by Edvard Munch Photograph: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam/ Munch-Museet, Oslo

I thought as the exhibition went on that the comparisons became less visually obvious. Munch’s paintings become more abstract and his themes darker and more nightmarish.  A recurring feature of Munch’s work is a figure in the foreground which seems to pop up from nowhere and peer out of the front of the canvas.  It appears already in his ‘Red Virginia Creeper painting but in later work the figure looms nearer the front of the canvas until it is not even fully in view, just the top of a head, and the form becomes less defined.  His human forms in general become more metaphorical and slightly macabre. His famous picture ‘The Screamis a good example of this.  Originally called ‘The Scream of Nature’, Munch painted it after an experience he had while walking on a hot sultry night with a friend by a lake.

 “I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.”    The dehumanised figure in the painting holds his hands to his face in torment.  Munch later described the personal anguish behind the painting, “for several years I was almost mad… You know my picture, ‘The Scream?’ I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again.”

‘The Dance of Life, painted in 1900 is another example of this. The figures dancing represent the stages of life; youth and innocence, love and passion and the sadness of bereavement. The women are clearly painted but their dancing partners are relatively faceless and the dance is a slow sad affair devoid of gaiety.

Van Gogh very famously went mad and spent much time in mental asylums struggling with his mind. In 1888, van Gogh travelled to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence where he committed himself to an asylum. Here  the style of his work changes dramatically and his brush strokes became a torrent of energy. Although he could not draw and paint for long periods of time without suffering from an attack, he managed to create The Starry Night, one of his most popular works. The swirling lines of the sky are a possible representation of his mental state. This same shaken style is visible in all of his work during his time in the asylum. ‘Wheat Field with Crows’ is another example of an extremely dramatic piece, conveying intense feelings, and is one of his most haunting works. The dark cloudy sky filled with crows and the cut off path seem to ominously point to the artist’s imminent death.

Self-Portrait as a Painter (1887-88) by Vincent van Gogh; and Self-Portrait with Palette (1926) by Edvard Munch. Photograph: Reuters

Self-Portrait as a Painter (1887-88) by Vincent van Gogh; and Self-Portrait with Palette (1926) by Edvard Munch. Photograph: Reuters

For me this is what ultimately emerged as the link between these two artists. They both used their work as a cathartic release, to externalise their feelings and express their angst. Colour is used to symbolise emotions, and vigorous brush strokes to exemplify energy and passion. The subject matter is often a clear metaphor of their state of mind.  Munch was unlucky in love, suffered bouts of deep depression and felt alone and victimised for much of his life. Van Gogh’s decline into madness and eventual suicide attempt, which led to his death, is well documented in the history books. The look of pain and confusion is what I saw on their faces in the two introductory portraits and that sums up to me what these two artists had most common. Both were troubled souls who used art and colour as a way to express emotion.

Artist – Paul Ellis

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by Alison Smith


DSC00619Catching up with Artist – Paul Ellis

About two and a half years ago I went to have a chat with Paul Ellis, who had just left his life career as a Head Teacher and had taken early retirement to follow his other passion, painting.  He had just given up the 9 to 5 to become a full-time artist and I remember sensing Paul’s nervous excitement as he plunged into a new bohemian world. Back then we spoke at length about the change in routine and the hidden skills needed to be a successful artist, as well as taking a peep at some of his amazing work.

Since we spoke Paul has been very busy exploring and developing his talent, putting his artistic as well as his marketing and organisational skills to good use and has been very busy garnering successful exhibitions and private commissions.  Since we met back in February 2013 he has exhibited in The Hague,  Margate and this autumn he will achieve one of his stated goals, to have a solo exhibition in Amsterdam at the Amstelkerk from 13th September to 4th October.

I was looking forward to meeting Paul again, to see his new paintings and to find out more about his upcoming exhibition.

DSC00616 copyAlison: I remember watching a YouTube video of you giving a speech back in 2012 where you say that you don’t yet feel comfortable calling yourself an artist, that you prefer to say “I paint”.  3 years on is there still a part of you which remains a teacher or Headmaster, or are you now 100% artist?

Paul:  100% artist without hesitation.  I would now say I’m the artist formerly known as Headmaster.

Alison: Two and a half years on and has the daily routine changed much from when you just started out?

Paul:  Enormously. I’m still very disciplined and get up quite early and start to paint, usually listening to Radio 4 until Woman’s Hour comes on and irritates me enough to send me out for a coffee at a local café where other artists gather.  I’m a lot more efficient and pro-active than in the beginning and spend a lot of time visiting galleries and looking at other artists’ work, plus a lot of time in the Rijksmuseum examining technique and finding inspiration.

DSC00613 copyAs we are talking about this we are looking at one of the paintings which will be shown at his upcoming exhibition.  Entitled ‘Paddling by the Palace’ it depicts the Rijksmuseum on a rather grey day with a curious group of youths who appear to be about to dunk someone in the large paddling pool behind the museum. Paul explained that this group of people were not originally observed in Amsterdam at all but were a group of people he spotted and observed on the beach at Zandvoort.  The explanation for what they are doing becomes another story when transposed from the beach setting to the centre of Amsterdam.   This is a question for the viewer of the painting to ask themselves.  What are these people doing?  Is this fun, or aggression?  One youth is wearing a hoodie. Does this stereotype suggest aggression? Paul explained that the scene at Zandvoort had an unusual story but he wants his audience to think about it and come up with their own story.

To me that is what makes a Paul Ellis painting distinct and original.  There is always a question posed.  The setting may be the beach, or the Scottish Highlands, or an Amsterdam street.  There will usually be a fabulous sky, great clouds and a richness of colour, but there will also be something else, a stray figure, a lonely beast, a symbolic group of objects or characters, which makes the observer of his paintings ask “why”? What are they doing there? What are they thinking? Why are they looking at me like that?

DSC00615 copyI asked Paul about this and his answer was simple.

“I want my paintings to say something about the human condition”

A great example of what he means by this, and my personal favourite of Paul’s newer work, will also appear in his new exhibition.  Humorously entitled “Look, Sea Walker”  it is a vast sunset seascape of vibrant oranges and yellows and depicts two paddle boarders who appear to be walking on water, one man spotlighted, as if chosen, by the sun.  The thin dark stripe of the horizon suggests what? The abyss? The end of the world? The Dark Side?  The great expanse of sky and the golden hue of the sunset on the water depicts nature at its most majestic, with man looking small and rather isolated in its vastness.

DSC00609 copyMany of Paul’s paintings have this theme in common.  Other common themes, which will be found in the exhibition, are philosophy; ask him about finding Spinoza on a bridge in Amsterdam, Scotland; from curly horned sheep having a chat on a boggy glen to serene seascapes depicting a ghostly ferry disappearing into the mist, and of course Amsterdam and The Netherlands landscape, all with a twist and a question mark.

I had to ask Paul how he thinks his technique has changed and developed since we last spoke.

Paul:  My style has evolved and matured more than changed.  I have developed a more thorough technique of underpainting more layers of colours to achieve a more intense and sensory effect.  When I was painting “Look, Sea Walker” I had an incredible empathy with how Mark Rothko might have felt as I applied layer after layer of paint to achieve the perfect feeling of sunset sky.  It was a very emotional experience applying the paint, more sensory than visual in a way,  When that happens it’s a moment of clarity, being able to capture the essence of what it felt like to be there, and translating it into the paint.

DSC00610 copyAlison:  How do you choose your subject matter?

Paul: An idea has to grab me in the beginning or it just doesn’t work.  I get a snapshot of what I want to achieve but I never know how it will end up.  It has to somehow balance.  There has to be a harmony in the end result or it doesn’t work.  Quite often the end result can be very different from my original idea.  I like to push the boundaries and I’m constantly learning and trying new techniques to see what works.

Alison:  You seem very content with your new life.

Paul: Finding success as an artist requires more than just artistic talent, you also have to be savvy in business and not afraid to pursue your goals.  I’ve learnt a lot in the last few years and feel more comfortable now with what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.  I’m constantly learning and developing and that is very satisfying.  I now understand what I am about and I’m certain that I must carry on.  Getting an exhibition in Amsterdam was a major goal of mine and it’s very exciting to have achieved it.  That doesn’t mean I can now rest on my laurels and  I’m already planning the next 5 years.

DSC00614 copyIt was wonderful chatting to Paul and hearing all about his work and his plans.  I will certainly attend the opening on Sunday 13th September at the Amstelkerk and I recommend anyone who can get there to go along and see his work for themselves.  The exhibition is on until 4th October, and if you would like Paul to walk you around the exhibition and tell you about his paintings, he is happy to do so.  I have to say that it’s worth it as there is a lovely story behind each one.  You can contact him via his website to make an appointment.

Exhibition:  Paul M Ellis, Solo Exhibition, Paintings UKNL

Amstelkerk,  Amsterdam

13th Sept – 4th Oct 2015.

Mon – Fri  09: 00-17:00  Sundays 13:30 -17:00 (Sat Closed)








Prinsjesdag in Blauw en Goud in the Atrium, City Hall, Den Haag

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The art installation ‘Prinsjesdag in Blauw and Goud’ by artist Wilma van der Meyden can be viewed from Tuesday 25 August to Tuesday 15 September 2015 in the Atrium, City Hall, Den Haag.

Prinsjesdag signifies democracy, freedom and peaceful living. Prinsjesdag, or Budget Day, falls every year, on the third Tuesday of September. On this day King Willem-Alexander gives a speech indicating the policy of the Government for the coming year. This day is associated with splendour, pomp and ceremony. King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima will travel at exactly 1.00pm, in the famous Golden Coach, from the Palace in Noordeinde, Den Haag, to the Dutch Parliament building, the Binnenhof, a short distance away. The Golden Coach travels along the Lange Voorhout, one of the most beautiful streets within the centre of the City and one of the best places from which to watch and take part in this parade. Imagine for a moment the splendour not only of the Golden Coach and the royal entourage but the traditions of the ladies hats; the briefcase carried by the Finance Minister; the crowds of residents and visitors who come to Den Haag especially to enjoy and take part in this historic annual event.

This year the City of Den Haag will be the focus for a number of cultural events celebrating, not only Prinsjesdag, but also Mozart as it is 250 years since Mozart lived in the city ( ). During the weeks leading up to Prinsjesdag, visitors to the Atrium, in the City Hall in Den Haag, will be greeted by a larger-than-life art installation, a painted parade, representing people from all walks of life taking part in the Prinsjesdag festivities.  Viewers cannot help becoming a part of this parade, perhaps contemplating their own role as citizens as they walk along the royal blue carpet leading them through the atrium.

This art installation, created by artist Wilma van der Meyden, consists of 52 sketches in oil on wooden panels. Each panel is 3 metres tall and 1.5 metres wide. The figures are painted expressively using a limited colour range of blues with gold accents on white backgrounds. Mounted on podiums in the atrium, the figures call to mind giant friezes – visually linked by the central royal blue carpet.  Black cast-iron benches from the Lange Voorhout, have been placed in the atrium space as part of the piece, and serve as a direct link to the majestic street along which the Golden Coach travels from the Palace Noordeinde to the Binnenhof each year.

The work was designed and constructed specifically for this site with support from Atrium City Hall to create a celebratory and visual expression of Prinsjesdag for the public to enjoy. Many people may never have seen the parade but can still enjoy the splendour of the event if they visit the atrium. The concept has its roots in a series of small oil paintings which Wilma, born and raised in South Africa, painted in 2011 based on her first impressions of Prinsjesdag following her arrival in Den Haag as a new resident back in 1998.

“Some people walk through the spacious Atrium City Hall on their daily commute, others come for business, for civic affairs or even by chance – many more will come from near and far to celebrate ‘Prinsjesdag’ in The Hague. May this hand painted parade greet each one and take them on their own personal walkabout.”– Wilma van der Meyden, May 2015

As you might imagine, an exhibition of this scale has not been created quickly or easily. Painting of the panels has taken many months following many more months of planning, sketching and preparing. The sheer scale of each panel has represented its own challenge – where might you house 52 of them! In this respect Wilma has had the support of her husband Alan, family and friends and not least her neighbour and landlord who has provided studio and storage space as the project has grown and developed from Wilma’s first visit to the Prinsjesdag celebrations many years ago. Her determination to succeed and to make the installation a success for everyone to enjoy is obvious, from the smallest detail of recreating the famous ‘briefcase’ to the artist’s quiz for children to enjoy and to enhance their interaction with the artwork.

This is an exhibition not to be missed. More to 50,000 visitors are expected to see the art installation as they walk through the spacious atrium of Den Haag City Hall.  Entrance is free.

For more information about the artist and the exhibition, visit her website or the

Home is where the art is

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By Benjamin Arthur


One of the greatest joys of moving into our new home has been rediscovering old possessions long neglected in storage. Furniture, silver, china but it didn’t include too many works of art. So we’ve found even greater pleasure in starting the process of building a small collection of art works which we like to look at. That’s the only criterion; and budget of course. Most paintings we’ve found in markets or in the Kringloopwinkels.JAN_2338

This piece however, a still life with Grapes & Apples is a copy of an original piece by a Dutch artist. It is not just any old copy though. It was painted by my Godmother as a wedding present for Leigh Ann & I. Having completed the work she then flew all the way to Amsterdam to present it to us. It truly was a labour of love.

The detailing on it is exquisite. JAN_2341The brilliance of the colour is not captured by the photographs.

This is an artwork that we will treasure for the rest of our days and truly makes our house a home.

Thanks Aunt Jane!


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