Vermeer-related lecture

March 30th, 2014

Silence in the Studio: Vermeer and Terborch
by Mariët Westermann
Washington College, Chestertown MD
Hotchkiss Recital Hall, Gibson Center for the Arts – Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 5 p.m.

from the Washington College website:
Celebrated art historian Mariët Westermann, vice president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will explore the technical innovations by Dutch painters of the Golden Age such as Vermeer and Gerard Terborch in a lecture entitled “Silence in the Studio: Vermeer and Terborch.”. The lecture will be given on the occasion of the 11th annual Janson-La Palme Distinguished Lecture in European Art History at Washington College on Wednesday, April 9. The talk will begin at 5 p.m. in Hotchkiss Recital Hall, Gibson Center for the Arts, on the college campus.

A native of Holland, Westermann graduated magna cum laude from Williams College with a degree in history. She later completed her master’s degree and Ph.D. in art history at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts and has written extensively on Dutch painting and Vermeer. Westermann is the author of several acclaimed books, including A Worldly Art: The Dutch Republic 1585-1718 (ranked a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times); The Amusements of Jan Steen: Comic Painting in the 17th Century; Rembrandt: Art and Ideas; and Anthropologies of Art. She also authored Johannes Vermeer 1632-1675 for the Rijksmuseum Dossiers series and served as guest curator of “Art and Home: Dutch Interiors in the Age of Rembrandt” at the Newark Museum and Denver Art Museum

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Click here for Washington College event page.

Italians divided (as usual) by art exhibition

March 9th, 2014
Girl with a pearl Earring exhibition in Bologna, Italy

The arrival of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in Bologna lends a hand to divide the already historically divided Italians. Alberto Mattioli, who writes for one of Italy’s chief daily papers, La Stampa, puts down in black and white what few Anglo-Saxon journalists would dare in an article about the first day of the exhibit, “‘The Girl’ in Bologna: Here is what the celebrated portrait saw on the debut of the Italian exhibition.”

First, Mattioli paints a bleak portrait of the those “famous 5 million Italians” who “attend art exhibitions and theaters, and read books and newspapers.” The journalist dismisses out of hand the remaining 55 million Italians who instead “ugly themselves watching the most horrible television in the world.” According to Mattioli, one of the main attendants of the exhibition is what he calls the “family from Crema” ( i.e. a typical dumb-money family from a rich provincial town), “super-booked” and overjoyed to attend the spectacle. Between the trip, tickets, tortellini (Bologna’s gastronomic specialty) and catalogue, the “paterfamilias” from Crema will wind up forking up about a thousand euro ($1,400) for the day in Bologna “la grassa” (the rich).

Mattioli’s other targets are the “democratic female school teacher” and the “acculturated retiree” who “just can’t” miss the “latest” exhibition.

Obviously, the people who dared put up such an event receive their share.

Marco Goldin, the organizer the spectacle, is guilty of publically claiming “we could actually sell 300,000 tickets!” Even the guards, who are charged with controlling crowd rage (a malady nowhere more acute than in Italy), are dubbed “buttadentro” (literally “throwins,” a play on the word “buttafuori, ” or guards who mercilessly throw “out” the misbehavers from Italy’s justly maligned discotheques).

Mattioli doesn’t have a hard time rounding up consensus in Italy, where blockbuster art exhibitions have long been the object of disdain Philippe Daverio, a prominent art critic, compares the show to Barbie. Alberto Ronchi, commissioner of cultural affairs of Bologna, is quoted as saying “paintings for an art exhibitions are lent, not rented. We are financing the restoration of a Dutch museum; that’s crazy.” The art critic Vittorio Sgarbi calls the exhibition “useless.”

To round things off neatly, an impromptu poll by Mattioli reveals that seven out of eight Italians in the line for the show had no idea that Raphael’s “iconic” Santa Cecilia is only a few minutes away.

Upcoming Gerrit Dou exhibition

March 9th, 2014

Gerrit Dou: The Leiden Collection from New York
March 9 – August 31, 2014
Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Gerrrit Douc, Cat on a Balustrade

Whether history has been just or unjust with Gerrit Dou,  his incredibly meticulous works were sought after far more than Vermeer’s. With the possible exception of Rembrandt, the Lieden-based painter was the most revered and highly paid seventeenth-century Dutch artist. His fame spread throughout Europe, where his paintings were collected by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, Cosimo III de Medici and other elite patrons. The States General of The Netherlands included some of Dou’s paintings in its gift to Charles II of England at his restoration to the British throne in 1660. His works elicited such admiration that Johan de Bye, one of Dou’s patrons, rented a room near the Leiden town hall where paying viewers could admire 27 of the artist’s works. Since then only one major exhibition has been mounted of artists’ works at the National Gallery (2000), however, whose impact hardly measured against the blockbuster Vermeer exhibition (1995-1996) which some critics consider the greatest art exhibition of all time.

Will Dou ever rival Vermeer again? Whatever your opinion, some of his finest works are on display at the Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden. This exhibition features both a unique view of the stunning oeuvre of this painter (genre scenes and portraits) and recent material-technical research from the Lieden Gallery in New York, which vaunts the largest collection of works by Dou in the world.

Enjoy two high resolutions of Dou’s works:

The Herring Seller with a Boy
http://www.lakenhal.nl/images/persberichten/289/1.jpg

and

Cat on A Balustrade, perhaps more in tune with modern tastes.
http://www.lakenhal.nl/images/persberichten/289/2.jpg

exhibition page:
http://www.lakenhal.nl/persberichtendetail.php?id=289

Tim’s Vermeer: Pollice verso, but which way?

February 23rd, 2014

Curiously, the two most prominent studies of Vermeer in the second half of the 20th century were not authored by art historians. The American economist John Michael Montias pieced together a coherent biography of Vermeer after having translated and transcribed over 400 legal depositions, wills, deeds, warrants, inventories, promissory notes and other official documents related to Vermeer and his extended family. The British architect Philip Steadman meticulously reviewed the long-debated hypothesis that Vermeer had employed the camera obscura as an aid to his painting. Not only did Steadman confirm the hypothesis, he virtually proved (with numbers in hand) that Vermeer used the device to trace the outlines of his compositions directly to his canvas.

Is the Texan tech pioneer Tim Jenison a serious candidate to make the Montias/Steadman duo a trio? The verdict is still out, or to be more precise, it probably hasn’t been pronounced. Yes, it is true that Tim’s Vermeer has slain dead the general public and mesmerized lay press with a revolutionary take on how Vermeer painted with a simple lens device. But to date, art specialists have remained impressively silent (to those who are familiar with the art history mindset that may already be a pretty clear verdict).

Recently, however, the art critic Jonathan Jones of the Guardian broke file to become the first naysayer to step on the stage. Jones takes big swings and holds no punches. He relegates the Texan and his illusionist partners Penn & Teller to the ranks of dilettante outsiders who accomplish little more than producing a passionless, paint-by-numbers copy of a real masterpiece and creating one big illusion of their own: that virtually anyone can replicate a Vermeer painting by a lens and mirror device discovered by Tim.

Read here: DIY Vermeer documentary utterly misses the point about old masters: Tim Jenison tried for a whole year to recreate a Vermeer painting – and all he got was a pedantic imitation

Vermeer Fever: Getting too hot?

January 5th, 2014

Vermeer fever is getting high even in Italy, where the Dutch Master has never been particularly at home (see my post on why Italians don’t really love Vermeer).

In twenty days, 55,000 advanced tickets have already been sold to see Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring at the Renaissance style Palazzo Fava in Bologna, early 2014. However, not everyone is smiling as much as the 55,000 ticket holders and the exhibition organizer Marco Goldin, who claims that advanced sales like these “have no comparison on a global level.” Alberto Ronchi, the commissioner of cultural affairs of Bologna, is one of the few who’s wearing a frown.

Ronchi, who battles with the economics of his city’s cultural problems on a daily basis, says “there is no cultural project behind these kinds of initiatives.” “It’s just businessmen who rent pictures and shows them around. They tell me many people are coming, but how are they coming? When the long lines in front of Palazzo Fava are gone, what remains for the city of Bologna? Nothing.”

Ronchi estimates the event will cost between whopping 1 to 2 million Euro even though it does demonstrate that “at least some money is circulating, only, it’s being invested this way instead of trying to save Bologna’s existing cultural structure.”

Suspicion about high-flying art exhibitions is not new in Italy. While by now it’s hard to read a negative comment on global crowd pleasers elsewhere, Italian intellectual-journalists routinely deride them for what they see as kowtowing the crowd and wasted resources. Curator-managers are under pressure to turn a new trick to keep museum turnstiles whirling. Too many dubious pictures from private collections bloat the exhibitions, in the search of a pedigree. Mindless crowds get off buses, in line, and back on board scarcely remembering what they came to see to say. This is not to mention the head-spinning insurance costs and the ever-present dangers of shipping irreplaceable works of art over the globe.

I can’t say beforehand if Ronchi will be right or not. But from what I have been able to a gather, the seven Vermeer’s that came to Rome in 2012 have left little more than a few unsold exhibition catalogues on the shelves of the capitol’s book stores which, for some reason unknown to me, still stock art books.

Introducing Mr. Vermeer to Taiwan (Chinese style)

December 17th, 2013
girl-with-a-pearl-earring

Joy Lee of The China Post reports that advance ticket sales are on sale for an upcoming exhibition that will introduce Taiwanese audiences to the art of Vermeer. The 37 “works,” reproductions, created with latest digital printing technology, will be on display at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall from Jan. 18 to May 4. The exhibition was authorized by the Vermeer Centrum in Delft.

The exhibition hall will be divided into six sections allowing audiences to understand the processes Vermeer used to create his paintings.

The Chief Operations Officer of Gold Media Group’s Event Department Charles Lee said will allow audiences to view Vermeer’s paintings from a new angle and also in a more scientific manner.Lee also announced that Gold Media and the exhibition sponsor Taiwan Cooperative Bank will work together to establish a Vermeer Center in Taiwan.

If aren’t in the New York area, where the original Girl with a Pearl Earring is currently on exhibition at the Frick, but want to see something better that the oversized copy to the left, click here to download a 1835 x 2151 pixel image.

for the full story, see:
Ticket presale starts for Johannes Vermeer exhibition
Joy Lee, The China Post, December 17, 2013, 12:08 a.m. TWN

Five Vermeer thefts

December 5th, 2013
thieves

What do the five people on the left have in common? They are theives. To be precise…Vermeer theives.

The more of I have learned about art theft, the less it interests me. Just the same, I thought it was time to cover the five twentieth-century thefts of Vermeer paintings for the Essential Vermeer. One page for every Vermeer theft and one page for art theft in general.

There is little glamour involved. Forget gentlemen aesthetes who steal art as a sophisticated diversion—art is stolen principally by criminals who use stolen works of art for collateral in drug deals.

Of the five stolen Vermeers, only one has not been recovered. It could easily have rotted by now, although art thieves generally take care to hide and conserve their booty: it may eventually may allow them to strike a deal with police if they are caught.

The first three Vermeer paintings were stolen by individuals who thought of themselves as idealists. Depending on where one’s heart is, one thief could be called a loner. Depending on one’s political orientation, the other thief, who most likely headed two separate Vermeer thefts, could be called a terrorist. The most recent two thefts were the “work” of thugs, one, a brutal underworld Irish gangster, the other someone who has not been captured but whose name is known (only) to the FBI.

So if you like to get into the criminal mind, there plenty to chew on. If not, hold off. I am working on a study of how Vermeer influenced his contemporaries (no great surprises, he really didn’t).

Naturally, let me know how I can make it better.

Vermeer platoon

December 2nd, 2013
vermeer-gazing

After about 207 or so Vermeer exhibitions and innumerable articles about them, the unsung get their due. As far as I am aware, Randy Kennedy (New York Times) may just be the first journalist to have ever written about that discreet platoon of Vermeer devotees who travel under cover to be with the Master for a few hours. See, “For Fervent Fans of the Dutch Masters, ‘It’s a Dream Come True’”.

Even thought they don’t know me, members of the platoon know my website and they write to me. They are happily married couples, college students, librarians, housewives and lawyers. Most have enough money to travel but some must make real sacrifices. The emails they send are sometimes longish and passionate, often just a note about the most recent Vermeer encounter. A few are hurt because they will never see Vermeer’s Concert stolen by underworld thugs in 1990 and never recovered. A few send me photographs of themselves standing in front of the latest painting with wide grins. What links this heterogamous group is an urgent need to see, one or more Vermeers, but every Vermeer painting on the globe. One thing they never, EVER, omit in their communication is the number of Vermeer paintings they’ve seen so far.

Mind you, this is not trophy hunting. This is not a fad. Tear-jerking  novels or an block-buster exhibitions aren’t what it’s about. It’s deeply personal and it goes on for years, in silence.

I have met a few of the platoon when I travel to see Vermeer (standing in front of a Vermeer is wonderful, standing in front of a Vermeer with someone who likes Vermeer as much as you is more so). Some hold that I am an expert and want to know if Vermeer really used a camera obscura, but also which are my favorite Vermeer paintings. Then they tell me theirs. Some are as articulate as any seasoned art historian. Some don’t seem to comprehend at all why they love Vermeer but nonetheless wind up revealing to me something about his painting I had never thought of.

I am glad to be one of the Vermeer platoon and glad my website occasionally connects me with my companions and, hopefuly, offers them useful information, food for thought and a way to express some of their emotions.

Oh yes! I have seen all but two Vermeers: The Procuress and the Berlin Glass of Wine.

Tim’s Vermeer update

December 2nd, 2013

More on the documentary film, TIM’S VERMEER.

Vermeer-jug

Can anyone do this?

The press has really sunken their teeth in it. Three new articles look at how Tim Jenison, an American tech wizard and compulsive inventor, believes he has discovered how Vermeer painted and then painted one to prove it. (see a quick summary of Tim’s story below).

Kurt Andersen of Vanity Fair looks at some of the technical aspects of the undertaking. Tim shows his cards and throws in a high-resolution image of his finished Vermeer to prove his point. To get yourself convinced or unconvinced, read the article, see Tim’s painting and then click here to see the original on which Tim’s reconstruction is based.

Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times registers the art history community’s first reactions. As you would expect, they are doubtful without being explicitly dismissive. I would suspect this not so much to avoid the unsavory prospect of being caught on the wrong side of history (remember how dreadfully wrong some got the Impressionists and Van Meegeren and how much they paid for it?) but for institutional good manners and an understandable apprehension about alienating the broad public which the movie targets and will likely win over. Could any one calculate how many more visitors will be pushing though the turnsyles of Vermeer museums if Tim’s Vermeer clinches an Oscar for best documentary feature?

Stefanie Cohen of the Wall Street Journal furnishes background information about the “optical question” posed by Steadman and then describes Tim’s venture reserving Philip Steadman’s iffy comment for last. Steadman’s meticulous investigation and lucid argumentation regarding Vermeer’s use the camera obscura eventually brought almost all art historians onboard his not-easy to-digest hypothesis (i.e. Vermeer used the camera and traced with it too), no easy trick for an art history outsider.

Will layman Tim do as well? Tim’s story has just begun to be told.

Tim’s Vermeer opens Dec. 6 at Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway, Manhattan. Opens Dec. 13 in Los Angeles, nationwide on Jan. 31.

“Reverse-Engineering a Genius (Has a Vermeer Mystery Been Solved?)”
Kurt Andersen, Vanity Fair
November 29, 2013
http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/11/vermeer-secret-tool-mirrors-lenses

“Engineering His Own Vermeer. Tim Jenison, an Inventor, Paints ‘The Music Lesson’”
Dave Itzkoff, New York Times
November 27, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/01/movies/tim-jenison-an-inventor-paints-the-music-lesson.html?emc=eta1

“A Man Obsessed by a Dutch Master: In ‘Tim’s Vermeer,’ a documentary co-produced by Penn and Teller, an inventor tries to reach into Vermeer’s bag of tricks”
Stefanie Cohen, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 28, 2013
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304011304579222152499998092

Vermeer’s Guitar Player returns home

November 26th, 2013
Vermeer's Guitar Player agina in the Kenwood House

The Kenwood House, one of Britain’s most historic stately homes, has finally been restored to its former beauty. With the aid of conservation charity, eight rooms have been re-presented and reinterpreted to reference different periods in the building’s history. The newly refurbished rooms now feature family trails, an interactive dolls house, original letters and architectural designs. Naturally, in situ is a priceless collection of artworks by Vermeer, .Rembrandt, Van Dyke and Gainsborough which had been collected by Edward Cecil Guinness, First Earl of Iveagh. The work, which took 18 months and cost  £6 million,  is now drawing to a close with a reopening date set for Thursday, November 28. Vermeer’s  late Guitar Player will be in the original location after its was shown for the period of the Kenwood’s restoration and the London National Gallery.

Click here for a BBC video about the restoration.

Click here more about for painting.

Click here for information about the restoration from the Kenwood House website.

drawn from:
Aaron Sharp, “Restored to its former glories: Stately home which houses masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer set to reopen to public”, Mail Online.com. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2513611/Kenwood-House-houses-masterpieces-Rembrandt-Vermeer-set-reopen.html>