Archive for October, 2008

The man who got tired of his Vermeer

October 29th, 2008

While no one expected Las Vegas resort developer Steve Wynn to hold his Vermeer forever, he seems to have become disenchanted with the thought of being the only private holder of a genuine painting by Johannes Vermeer after only four years. The Las Vegas Review-Journal has it that Wynn recently sold the Young Woman Seated at the Virginals painting purchased four years ago for the sum of $30 million. Neither the new selling price nor the identity of the buyer is known.

After languishing in limbo for years, a team of leading specialists proposed it as a secure addition to Vermeer’s limited oeuvre after 10 years of extensive research. Wynn snapped it up at Sothebey’s and soon after displayed it in the now defunct Wynn Las Vegas Gallery. It then adorned his personal office. Recently it resurfaced at the Vermeer and the Delft Style exhibition in Tokyo on view until December 14, 2008.

Since its rehabilitation as an authentic Vermeer, almost no one has come forward publicly to cast doubts on the work’s authenticity even though the general consensus seems to comment negatively on its artistic merit. See my take.

Bad Vermeers, great book

October 26th, 2008

In New York I recently met Jonathan Lopez whose The Man Who Made Vermeers has just been published. It is about the most colossal art forgery of all times: the fake Vermeer’s by Dutchman Han van Meegeren. Four years of intense research (Lopez is an artist himself and knows Dutch) and superlative writing skills gives new dimensions to a well-known story. Lopez reveals the master forger as an arch-opportunist, a cunning liar, and a fervent sympathizer of the fascist cause from as early as 1928. Deftly reconstructing an insidious network of illicit trade in the art market’s underworld, Lopez allows few reputations to emerge unscathed in this gripping incredibly readable book. Moreover, Lopez provides a plausable response to the question which all those who have taken up the case have tactfully avoided or inadequately addressed: how could the most renowned museum curators, art dealers and private collectors been taken by fakes which appear almost laughable today?

Even if you are like me and have until now turned a cold shoulder to the Van Meegeren story, the The Man Who Made Vermeers is a must-read. The L.A. Times book review says why.

Lopez will be speaking at the MET on November 14, 2008 , 6:00 pm. along with Walter Liedtke, curator of European painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Lopez will be lecturing in other places too.

For the eye and monitor

October 25th, 2008

For the first time in Italy, an impressive selection of works from the world’s most important collection of 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings can be admired in Rome including Vermeer’s Woman with a Pearl Necklace. The exhibition is open from November 11, 2008 to February 15, 2009.

One welcomed spinoff for image buffs is a 1.2 MB hi-res image of the Woman with a Pearl Necklace offered free by the exhibition’s press office. Click here, scroll down and download. There are 16 other images as well.


October 24th, 2008

What ever the risks, many Vermeers are traveling again. Here is my count for 2008-2010 (two of them make two trips).

  1. The Astronomer – Atlanta 2008
  2. The Little Street – Toyko 2008
  3. Diana and her Compansions – Toyko 2008
  4. Christ in the House of Martha and Mary – Tokyo 2008
  5. Young Woman Seated at the Virginals – Tokyo 2008
  6. Woman with her Maid – Tokyo 2008
  7. Girl with the Wineglass – Tokyo 2008
  8. Lady Writing – Pasadena 2008
  9. Woman with a Pearl Nekclace – Rome 2008
  10. The Astronomer – Minneapolis 2010
  11. Christ in the House of Martha and Mary – The Hague 2010
  12. The Procuress – The Hague – 2010

Some believe shipping fragile old paintings is inherently a bad practice and that they rarely return precisely in the same condition. Austrian conservators recently battled with the Director General Wilfried Seipel of the Kunsthistorisches Museum to keep the Art of Painting from the Japanese rendezvous. Seipel shot back to the conservators who had advised giving the painting a necessary rest after a recent trip to The Hague: “I think this is a complete nonsense. If a painting lies it won’t look any better after two years.” The painting stayed home. The Herzog-Anton-Ulrich Museum quickly stepped up to the plate, the chance to bolster the reputation of the lesser-known Brunswick museum could not be passed up.

Are the risks worth it? It is no easy task to define success of an art exhibition that might offset the risks encountered (mere attendance doesn’t tell much). Perhaps it is not so much a question of staging traveling exhibitions or not: they are inevitable once museums no longer designate themselves as passive holders of the flame. It is more a matter of the quality of a travelling exhibition.

For example, Vermeer’s Love Letter came and went to Rome in 2006 without being noticed. The work was poorly hung on a garish orange wall with spotlights that produced more glare than anything else leaving the tiny work to fend for itself amongst the more robust pictures of the permanent collection. To justify the expense and occasion of a Vermeer in the Eternal City, little more was offered than a press conference to bring attention to the museum’s restructuring. I returned to the exhibit at least five times and rarely found more than few tourists amazed to find a Vermeer in Rome. Risks were run and little was gained.

On the other hand, see the invaluable rewards of texts such as Vermeer and the Delft School (ed. Liedtke) and Vermeer Studies (ed. Liedtke) and the Johannes Vermeer catalogue (ed. Wheelock) all consequences of two of the most imposing exhibitions dedicated to Vermeer. Because of them and the writings of the late John M. Montias, Vermeer is hardly the sphinx he used to be. The Achilles heel of such exhibits stems from their own success: viewing conditions of the paintings are often nearly prohibitive.

Obviously, the mere dimensions of an exhibition can hardly be equated with its quality. Modena, Italy staged an excellent exhibition in 2006 starring a single work, Vermeer’s Lady Seated at the Virginals. This late canvas was magisterially hung amidst analogous genre paintings and period objects (or similar ones) that Vermeer had used as props in his own composition. Van Baburen’s Procuress (1622), employed by Vermeer as a backdrop in his own work, proves even more vulgar than any reproduction can convey and the task of taming it to behave the Vermeer’s quiet pictorial laws appears even more amazing. When the Delft floor tiles, bass viol, and the fragile virginals on display reappear in Vermeer’s composition, they have been deprived of their most tactile values and transformed into pictorial essence: “the world has become paint.” Knowing Vermeer’s dire economic conditions in the years he painted the Lady and the intellectual struggle to transform the agitated world into still pictures, the exhibition uncovered a pathos that I had not been aware of.