The Dutch-speaking people of the Low Countries, whether in Flanders or the Netherlands, have been known for centuries as great painters. It is something so deeply cultural – even today almost every family in Flanders has its amateur painter – that one might be inclined to think that their painting talent is genetic. The Flemish and Dutch have expressed themselves in painting more than in music, literature, dance or any other art form. Flemish and Dutch painters, like Van Eyck, Memling, Bosch, Brueghel, Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Vermeer, van Gogh are world famous. They rank among the most significant in the world. In the history of painting a disproportionate number of the greatest painters of all times lived and worked in the Low Countries.
The Flemish painter Hans Laagland (b. 1965) began to paint when he was ten. His father, Ludo Laagland (b. 1923), was a professional portrait and landscape painter, but Hans wanted to return to the great golden age of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). “It has been downhill ever since Rubens,” he says. According to Hans, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), whom he calls “Rubens’s disabled cousin,” was the last of the great painters in history: “What comes after him no longer has any significance.” According to Hans, even Van Gogh and Picasso cannot be called artists when compared to Rubens and his school. To Hans, as to Rubens and all his predecessors, painting is a skill. With Rubens and his school ended the line of the Flemish “masters.” Singlehandedly Hans decided to restore the masterly tradition.
As an adolescent he began to train himself in the techniques of Rubens and the traditional skills of the painters’ guilds. He considered the work of his father far “too modern.” Painters should mix their own paints and master all the skills that their predecessors employed. Hans collaborated in a scientific project to recreate the white paint that characterises the works of Rembrandt. He also wrote a book “De Kunstverduistering” (The Eclipse of Art), only available in Dutch, in which he explains why a conservative movement is needed in the arts. Today, he paints modern portraits but with the master’s skills of the great Flemish school. A fine example is his family triptych. It shows Hans’s selfportrait on the right panel and his wife Gohar on the left, flanking a central painting of his daughter Sylvia.