Dutch culture, or the culture of the Netherlands, is diverse, reflecting regional differences as well as the foreign influences thanks to the merchant and exploring spirit of the Dutch and the influx of immigrants. The Netherlands and Dutch people have played an important role for centuries as a culturally liberal and tolerant centre, with the Dutch Golden Age regarded as the zenith.
The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch, spoken by almost all people in the Netherlands. Dutch is also spoken and official in Aruba, Brussels, Curaçao, Flanders, Sint Maarten and Suriname. It is a West Germanic, Low Franconian language that originated in the Early Middle Ages (c. 470) and was standardized in the 16th century. West Frisian is also a recognized language and it is used by the government in the province of Friesland. Several dialects of Low Saxon (Nedersaksisch in Dutch) are spoken in much of the north and east and are recognized by the Netherlands as regional languages according to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Another Dutch dialect granted the status of regional language is Limburgish, which is spoken in the south-eastern province of Limburg. However, both Dutch Low Saxon and Limburgish spread across the Dutch-German border and belong to a common Dutch-Low German dialect continuum.
Dutch Golden Age painting was among the most acclaimed in the world at the time, during the seventeenth century. There was an enormous output of painting, so much so that prices declined seriously during the period. From the 1620s, Dutch painting broke decisively from the Baroque style typified by Rubens in neighboring Flanders into a more realistic style of depiction, very much concerned with the real world. Types of paintings included historical paintings, portraiture, landscapes and cityscapes, still lifes and genre paintings. In the last four of these categories, Dutch painters established styles upon which art in Europe depended for the next two centuries. Paintings often had a moralistic subtext. The Golden Age never really recovered from the French invasion of 1672, although there was a twilight period lasting until about 1710.
Dutch painters, especially in the northern provinces, tried to evoke emotions in the spectator by letting him/her be a bystander to a scene of profound intimacy. Portrait painting thrived in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. A great many portraits were commissioned by wealthy individuals. Group portraits similarly were often ordered by prominent members of a city's civilian guard, by boards of trustees and regents, and the like. Often group portraits were paid for by each portrayed person individually. The amount paid determined each person's place in the picture, either head to toe in full regalia in the foreground or face only in the back of the group. Sometimes all group members paid an equal sum, which was likely to lead to quarrels when some members gained a more prominent place in the picture than others. Allegories, in which painted objects conveyed symbolic meaning about the subject, were often applied. Many genre paintings, which seemingly only depicted everyday life, actually illustrated Dutch proverbs and sayings, or conveyed a moralistic message, the meaning of which is not always easy to decipher nowadays. Favourite topics in Dutch landscapes were the dunes along the western sea coast, rivers with their broad adjoining meadows where cattle grazed, often a silhouette of a city in the distance.
The Hague School were around at the start of the nineteenth century. They showed all that is gravest or brightest in the landscape of Holland, all that is heaviest or clearest in its atmosphere. Amsterdam Impressionism was current during the middle of the Nineteenth century at about the same time as French Impressionism. The painters put their impressions onto canvas with rapid, visible strokes of the brush. They focused on depicting the everyday life of the city. Late nineteenth-century Amsterdam was a bustling centre of art and literature. Vincent van Gogh was a post-Impressionist painter whose work, notable for its rough beauty, emotional honesty and bold color, had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. In the 20th century, the Netherlands produced many fine painters and artists. Around 1905-1910 pointillism was flourishing. Between 1911 and 1914 all the latest art movements arrived in the Netherlands one after another including cubism, futurism and expressionism. After World War I, De Stijl (the style) was led by Piet Mondrian and promoted a pure art, consisting only of vertical and horizontal lines, and the use of primary colors.