Do I see dolphins diving there? It is very similar, in the waves in the painting by Abraham Storck I count seven. I know they are in the North Sea, I saw them myself when I sailed from IJmuiden to Lowestoft. That would have been no different in the 17th century, and then they even tumbled into the Zuiderzee, off the roadstead of Enkhuizen. Where the painter captured them as part of the hustle and bustle. A boy in a dinghy waves to them with his cap. Although, maybe I’m overdoing it, now that I look again, I see him waving to the fishermen in a boat ahead. But I want someone in this painting to realize the festivity of those large diving animals, so I shifted his gaze for a moment.
Now on board that one open barge I see a woman with a child on her arm. She does look at the dolphins. I suspect. I hope.
By the way, I’m not sure if they’re dolphins (be quiet, biologists). I’m not sure. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the paintings that Museum Gouda brought together under the name ‘Cool Waters’. Those waters are usually salty, the sea is overrepresented and the accompanying, painting-like violence of nature explains why. Sun! Wind! Waves! They provide movement. But paintings are more than paint. They always need people who take care of life. Do they arise from the imagination of the painter or did he see them, did he observe them? I don’t know again. But they are crucial. They’re busy, they’re futile, they’re bracing. They are footnotes that blend into the environment. But I always look for them and like to see them crawling, because they make the painting. They give me the opportunity to feel what I see. A storm on the beach needs a figure, which can be so small that you can barely see it. But it is there. The person makes the painting.
Oh yeah? What about John Constable? I’m going soon, while I still can, to his exhibition in Haarlem at Teylers. It was swallowed by Covid-19, but the unparalleled landscapes of the 19th-century Briton are just visible. I also see the people with him, several times they are a speck with a red coat. Through them he makes the awe-inspiring natural beauty intimate.
But the most I marvel at his cloud paintings. And there is no one to be seen. Constable paints in such a way that I can feel him, with his head back, catching movement, busy with the elusive, because a cloudy sky never stays the same, who paints a cloud loses grip. Whoever looks at these paintings becomes the person himself. That Constable didn’t paint. But it is there.