Montana may well be dubbed 'Big Sky Country' but ever since I moved to the Netherlands 15 years ago I have constantly been informed by the indigenous people of this sub-sea, cheese-loving delta that the Netherlands is Big Cloud Country. The Dutch are proud of their clouds, a somewhat curious claim to fame for a country that boasts a full and eventful history every bit as colourful as that of the UK.
Why do the Dutch fetishize their clouds? OK, so the country is flatter than an week-old can of opened tonic water, so there is less scenery - ie, hills and stuff - to interfere with the sky and clouds. Could that be it? Is it just an optical illusion?
Perhaps, as some have suggested, it's not so much the clouds themselves as the play of light on the clouds; and the light is so special because it is reflected back into the sky by all the water.
Whatever the case, cumulus clouds have been eponymously re-named by a Dutch artist you have never even heard of, but one of whose paintings ranks third in popularity - after Rembrandt's The Night Watch, and Vermeer's View of Delft - in the card sales in the gift shop at the Rijksmuseum. Step forward please Jacob Isaackszoon van Ruisdael (1629-1682) with your enduring classic 'Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede'. This self-explanatory painting contains a whole flock of 'Ruisdael Clouds', or, as you might prefer to call them, clouds. Big sky, big clouds were a staple of Ruisdael's work and he is generally considered the pre-eminent landscape painter of the Dutch Golden Age, influencing later luminaries such as Monet, van Gogh, Piet Mondriaan and the English artists Thomas Gainsborough, J. M. W. Turner, and John Constable ('It haunts my mind and clings to my heart', Constable wrote after seeing a Ruisdael). Forget Rain Man; Ruisdael IS Cloud Man.
Pouring a bucket of cold vomit on this cloudy love-in, however, is the Cloud Appreciation Society (cloudappreciationsociety.org) which has assiduously debated whether the clouds painted by these Dutch 17th century landscape painters were 'meteorologically accurate'. Some art historians claim to be able to find the complete World Meteorological Organisation cloud atlas reproduced in landscapes from that period. Others argue that cloud forms were distorted to fit compositions and certain types of clouds that are typical for Holland did not appear in the paintings. Whoa! Provocative stuff from these cloud crazies. One can only assume that the CAS have never had the need to use 'artistic license' when describing any of their little darlings.
Anyway, no trouble with unrealistic clouds in my poster celebrating the Dutch love affair with a visible mass of condensed watery vapour floating in the atmosphere. These clouds have been authenticated by none other than God, who, last time I checked in my Cloud Directory, outranks even the CAS when it comes to such things.
The 'Netherlands' font at the bottom of the picture attempts to convey the fact that 1/4 of the country is below sea level but, far from sinking, the country has it's head above water. The Netherlands is waving not drowning.