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Sunday Times Books LIVE

Richard de Nooy

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Frutch

“French, Russian, Dutch – the Great European Melting Pot.”


“Cultural exchange! Mutual inspiration! Cross-pollination!”

My wife is accustomed to me thinking out loud. Her strategy is to ignore me until I get to the point.

“That’s what the blog’s going to be about!”

She calmly unchains her bike. We’ve just spent a couple of hours viewing the works of Gauguin, Bonnard, Denis and their contemporaries in the Hermitage Museum, occasionally catching a glimpse of the magnificent Amstel River as we strolled through the halls.

“Courses are actually Russian – did you know that?”

“What courses?”

“Amuses, hors d’oeuvres, main course, dessert – we think that’s French, but the French call it service à la russe, which means ‘Russian service’. Traditionally, the French served their food as one large buffet. But all that changed when wealthy Russians starting buying holiday homes in Paris back in the day, apparently.”

Gauguin painting

“How do you know all this?”

“I read it somewhere on the web.”

“And what does this have to do with the exhibition?”

“Well, the Hermitage in Amsterdam is like an annexe of the Hermitage in St Petersburg, which owns most of the artworks we just saw. But those paintings were created by French artists and bought by wealthy Russian collectors, who probably wanted to brighten up their long winters back home with all those warm Mediterranean colours.”

We cross the Skinny Bridge and freewheel into the narrow street beyond. We can’t cycle side by side, so I have to shout my theory over my shoulder in short bursts.

“And then there’s Tsar Peter the Great. He spent time in Amsterdam. Learning about shipbuilding. He fell out of a mast. A Dutch doctor treated him. The doctor went back to Russia with the tsar. And lots of other Dutch craftsmen went along, too. The tsar wanted to rebuild Amsterdam. In St Petersburg. He loved Holland. That’s also why the Dutch and Russian flags are so similar.”

“Are they?”

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