Travel: a brush with famous artists

Leiden © iStockphotos
Leiden in the Netherlands: full of echoes of Rembrandt

Three very different yet equally inspiring trips for art lovers. Chris Carter reports.

Leiden in the Netherlands is marking 350 years since the death of its homegrown master Rembrandt, who died in 1669. “With art historian Marike Hoogduin as my guide, I set off in search of Rembrandt’s Leiden,” says Mike Maceacheran in the Evening Standard. You don’t have to look far.

“On almost every corner there is an echo of the artist as a young man.” There’s the University of Leiden, where the 14-year-old Rembrandt studied under Jacob van Swanenburgh. There’s the Hortus Botanicus gardens, where Rembrandt wandered among the linden trees, just off the Rapenburg, “the city’s most beautiful canal”. Then “we cross onto Kloksteeg, a cobbled lane shining in the light rain… passing an almshouse and the 13th-century Gravensteen prison”. Taken together, Leiden “is a love letter to the Dutch Golden Age”. The Rembrandt Hotel has rooms from €79 (rembrandthotel.nl).

The Hague, with its Mauritshuis museum, lies just ten minutes away by train. In Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, this summer you can watch the restoration of Rembrandt’s most famous work – The Night Watch. Rembrandt’s life story was played out in these cities, and you can find aspects of it in both. “But you’ll need a lifetime to understand his genius.”

A drink in da Vinci’s local

Leonardo da Vinci died 500 years ago this May, in 1519. But in 1492, the year Florence’s Hotel Loggiato dei Serviti (around €150, loggiatodeiservitihotel.it) was built, da Vinci was a 40-year-old local artist, as the barman there pointed out, says Kevin Rushby in The Guardian. What better way is there to celebrate the life of the artist, and the birth of the wider European Renaissance, than with a walk through the Tuscan countryside from Florence to Siena, “the second one-time powerhouse of Western civilisation”.

From Greve, in Chianti, Rushby walks past vineyards and olive groves, which soon turns to forest. The landscape is “much wilder than I’d anticipated”. Deer tracks pepper the mud and wild boar have roughed up the forest glades. The wolf, too, has been making a comeback in these parts. Luckily, the lupi never come to the tiny village of San Sano, where Rushby pauses.

The next day, “I reluctantly drag myself away”, arriving in Siena via a bike ride through more vineyards, olive groves and forests. Every bar and restaurant in the city centre is packed for the palio, the annual Siena horse race. “I stand in a corner with an espresso and absorb the feverish excitement. It’s worth being in Siena on palio day just to be part of this: an atmosphere that Renaissance greats like da Vinci… must have known intimately”.

An Alaskan vista

“One hundred years before my arrival, the American painter Rockwell Kent came to Fox Island” in Alaska, with his nine-year-old son, says Alexander Howard in Lonely Planet. His aim was to paint and embark on “a quiet adventure in the wilderness”. “To get a higher vantage point, I hike up to a ridge strung between the island’s mountains like a hammock.”

Kent also felt the urge to explore. “Beyond those mountains… is a vast region that no man has ever trodden, a terrible ice-bound wilderness,” he wrote. That wasn’t strictly true – native Alaskans were living there. “Still, at the top of a ridge, with the wind gusting through the trees, a person in any century can have at least a brief moment of discovery.”

Stay at Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge, from £1,040 for two nights. See alaskacollection.com


Damien Hirst’s extravagant hotel suite

British artist Damien Hirst has designed The Empathy Suite at the Palms Casino (palms.com) in Las Vegas, in collaboration with award-winning firm Bentel & Bentel. At $200,000 for a two-night stay, it is the most expensive hotel suite in the world, says the Daily Mail. The “Sky Villa” has a 13-foot curved bar, created by Hirst and filled with medical waste that is in keeping with the pills (and butterflies) theme that runs throughout. Hirst’s Here for a Good Time, Not a Long Time (2018) art work hangs above the bar, comprising two marlins. Outside, a mosaic-tiled cantilevered pool overlooks the Las Vegas Strip. Guests can enjoy butler service  and $10,000 in gambling credit.

 

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