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In August 2014, I rented a flat in Den Haag (aka The Hague aka La Haie – literally hedge) for my first two week holiday in seven years.

Den Haag sounded like a good place for a holiday for several reasons. I could get there by train. (I loathe flying – it hurts my ears – and these days do it as little as possible.) I would be able to practise my Dutch. The beach at Scheveningen is within walking distance. And, best of all, it’s a city with lots of museums and galleries and shops and cinemas and restaurants and bars, so there would be something to do if it rained.

If it rained. This turned out to be the rainiest holiday I had ever taken. Out of fourteen days, only one was rain-free. On all the other days, it rained –  either drizzle, or light showers, or heavy showers, or torrential downpours, or thunderstorms. But rain it did, every day but one.

All the same, I would recommend a visit to Den Haag. For a capital city (Amsterdam may be the nominal capital of the Netherlands, but Den Haag is the administrative capital, and also capital of the province of South Holland) it is remarkably clean and tranquil, without being boring (though I have no idea what the nightlife is like – that’s not my thing). It seems to have many of the advantages of a provincial town without the concomitant drawbacks, such as shops closing at a ridiculously early hour, or not opening on Sundays. A lot of restaurants close as early as half past nine, which can be maddening, but that’s a general Netherlands thing, I think, not a Den Haag one. The Dutch finish eating at an hour when French people are still getting ready to go out to dinner.


Gemeentemuseum: mirrors.

Anyway, the bars were friendly, the food in the Indonesian and Korean restaurants I sampled was excellent and extremely reasonably priced (a slap-up nasi goreng with all the trimmings for under ten euros, for example), the red meat (which I don’t eat often) was delicious, and the people were lovely. As a lactose intolerant I find the Dutch habit of putting dairy into everything most inconvenient (Hema puts cream in their sushi, for heaven’s sake) which is why I mostly ate Asian, but when I did explain my problem to brasserie serving staff, they went out of their way to check ingredients and/or ensure my dinner was dairy-free – all with patience, charm and understanding.

Also, the museums are brilliant. I visited the Mesdag Panorama, Escher in het Paleis, the Mauritshuis and the Gemeentemuseum. Since Kim Kardashian has been taking a lot of selfies recently, I thought I would do the same, and whereas her selfies are entirely lacking in famous paintings, I thought I’d squeeze a few of those into the background.

So these aren’t just an exercise in unfettered egocentricity, they’re also a commentary on the commercialisation of culture, a synthesis of ancient and modern representationalism, and a critical comparison of artforms through the ages. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. You can see the results below. (I left both my camera and my iPad in the cloakroom at Mesdag Panorama, unfortunately, so no pictures there.)

Unlike Kim Kardashion, though, I don’t have stylists and make-up artists on call. My hair is invariably a mess, and the roots need retouching. The only make-up I’m wearing is lipstick and (in some pictures) a faint smudge of kohl. But I hardly ever wear make-up anyway, so this is no big deal – and certainly not one of those exercises in Look at me going makeupless!

What I do have is control over the finished image, which I have exercised to some degree. If for some reason I judged my complexion appeared too ruddy, I made it less red. Pictures in which I looked particularly gormless have been discarded. If ever I appear to be in soft focus, it’s not a deliberate ploy to downplay my wrinkles (which I couldn’t care less about) – just a side-effect of lighting (or, more usually, lack of it) and subsequent attempts to balance colour and shadow so the results aren’t too contrasty, but still reflect the reality. More or less.

I have included some pictures I saw and liked in the Gemeentemuseum. I’m not trying to swipe credit for them, and I certainly don’t think my snaps are reproduction-worthy – they’re more aide-memoires, to remind me of images and image-makers I would like to investigate further. These might not be ‘selfies’ in the strict sense of the word, but since in many cases you can see my reflection in the glass, I’m going to allow them.




3 thoughts on “SELFIES IN MUSEA

  1. Yay, you got the colossal cow painting at the Muirtishuis! Vermeers are all very well, but you can’t argue with a really intimidating cow.

    Did you get to the Mesdag collection, separate from the panorama?
    It’s a collection of lots of works by Belgium’s answer to Impressionism, French Barbizon and Scandinavian Skagen painters, distinguished by lots of messy brush strokes and an emphasis on brown – even the sea is often light-brown. Which may sound off-putting, but I get so sick of the same shades of pastel and styles of impressionism when I visit museums that Mesdag and co were actually quite refreshing – like the sickly greens and fish-belly silvers and anorexic expressionist faces of El Grecos after trudging through room after room of bloody Virgin Marys. The Breitners at the Rijksmuseum are good too, in this general vein – sepia and mud versions of those yellow and grey late 19th century paintings endlessly deployed as covers on Penguin classics – and Breitner helped on Mesdag’s panorama too. It’s the artistic territory from which Van Gogh’s early work evolves – potato eaters, that skeleton with the cigarette, etc.

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