Archive for January, 2009

Maria Vermeer?

January 25th, 2009

According to Benjamin Binstock (Vermeer’s Family Secrets: Genius, Discovery, and the Unknown Apprentice), seven works generally attributed to Johannes Vermeer were painted by the master’s eldest daughter, Maria. Maria also receives the dubious credit of having forged her father’s works as a means to pay the family’s debts to the baker.

For a painter whose entire known oeuvre comprises only 36 paintings, that smacks of a pretty hefty revision.

Although I have not read the book yet, it appears that Binstock bases his conclusions on presumed inconsistencies in technique, materials, artistic level and reinterpretation of known archival documents.

Binstock has jumped into a snake pit to say the very least.

First of all, notwithstanding popular conception and outward appearances, one of the characteristics of Vermeer’s oeuvre is its very “inconsistency,” especially when compared to those of other artists who worked in the same genre mode. A Terborch always looks pretty much like a Terborch, Van Mieris ditto and many Dou’s are perhaps too much like other Dou’s. Many Vermeer’s do not look like each other, not just seven.

A visit to the Rijksmuseum can be instructive. Without previous knowledge, I would have never been able to link more than two of the four Vermeer’s there to the same artist even when they were hung in close proximity. Do the evident differences in style and technique make the rugged Milkmaid any less a Vermeer than the enamel-like perfection of the Love Letter?  Having toiled 30 years day in and day out attempting to emulate the his techniques and outward appearance in my own work, Vermeer’s versatility never ceases to amaze me.

And what to say about the oversized View of Delft, which Thoré-Burger described as “painted with a trowel,” and the miniscule Lacemaker, a work as carefully crafted as the lace the young girl is making?  Two distant and distinct worlds.

BTW, Thoré didn’t know how right he was: laboratory examinations show Vermeer added sand to texturize his paint and evoke the roughness of the ancient constructions of the View. Being a ceaseless experimenter, he once used gold leaf to imitate a metallic fixture and left traces of compass lines in the Procuress around the spherical body the wine jug. Obviously, his use of the camera obscura positions him among the most ductile artists of the time. It is best not to underestimate his depth, technical inventiveness and broadness of artistic vision.

I believe it takes years of close-hand study of the pictures themselves to grasp Vermeer’s inconspicuous  complexity. But the vision we now have of his oeuvre is both logical and consistent as much as possible with such an illusive artist. Please consult the most up-to-date resource in regards, Walter Liedtke ’s brand-new monograph, a monument of scholarship, intuition and rationality, VERMEER: The Complete Paintings.

Lastly, as far as I am aware, no new Vermeer-related documentation has surfaced in years. Binstock must, by force, engage in very serious reshuffling of well-know facts, none of which tell us anything significant about Maria.

Googling at the Prado

January 20th, 2009

With the usual hoopla Google has launched a virtual tour of the Prado Museum in Madrid that enables visitors to closely examine 14 of its masterpieces on their computers monitors. A Google spokesman said: “The paintings have been photographed in very high resolution and contain as many as 14,000 million pixels (14 gigapixels).

“With this high level resolution you are able to see fine details such as the tiny bee on a flower in The Three Graces (by Rubens), delicate tears on the faces of the figures in The Descent from the Cross (by Roger van der Weyden) and complex figures in The Garden of Earthly Delights (by Bosch).”

While broadening the access to digital images of art works is welcomed news, it remains to be seen what real need this initiative may ultimately fulfill. What is Google’s commitment to art other than drumming up one-time novel seekers and sprinkling their brand with a bit of highbrow culture? Personal experience has shown me that museum goers rarely spend more than a few seconds per painting as they “do” the gallery and with special exhibitions it is not uncommon that visitors spend more time reading the accompanying brochure than looking at the objects on display.

Vermeer’s California tour extended

January 20th, 2009

For those who have not been able to see the picture, Vermeer’s A Lady Writing will be on view a week longer than expected at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. The owing was to end its California appearance on Feb. 2, but has been extended through Feb. 9.

Vermeer conference at Genoa

January 16th, 2009

The Italian art historian Stefano Zuffi will be speaking of Johannes Vermeer February 20 Palazzo Ducale, Genoa.

February  20, 2009
Società di letture e conversazioni scientifiche a Palazzo Ducale, Palazzo Ducale, Genoa
information and participation: 010/581584 (Registration is obligatory)

The MET shows a 6th Vermeer

January 9th, 2009

After its zigzag performance, the Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, reattributed in recent times to Vermeer, has bobbed up again in an unexpected place, next to the Woman with a Water Pitcher at the MET.

With the help of Lee Rosenbaum’s timely reporting on CultureGRll (artsJournal) and some detective work of my own, let’s take a  look at the painting’s history.

  • The Young Woman Seated at a Virginal is presumabley painted by Vermeer c. 1670.
  • The picture is documented for the first time in 1904, when it was published in the preliminary catalogue by Dr. Wilhelm Bode of the collection of Alfred Beit, a South African-born diamond magnate who rivaled the great early 20th-century art acquisitions of Americans such as Frick and Mellon.
  • Before and during the World War II, it was unanimously recognized by scholars, including Wilhelm Bode, Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, A.B. de Vries, Eduard Plietzsch and Ludwig Goldscheider.
  • Following the dramatic Van Meegeren affair of Vermeer forgeries, De Vries, the Director of the Rijksmuseum, the leadingVermeer scholar, expressed doubts about the authenticity of the picture published in 1948. De Vries changed his mind, in favor of the painting, and wrote several letters saying that if his book were to go into a third edition he would rehabilitate the picture.
  • When Beit died, the picture passed to his brother, Otto Beit, and then the latter’s son, Sir Alfred Beit, who eventually, in 1960, placed the picture on consignment with a London dealer.
  • Baron Frédéric Rolin of Brussels, an occasional collector of Old Masters and dealer in tribal art, sees and falls in love with it. Aware of the doubtful attribution to Vermeer, he acquired it in exchange four works from his collection, paintings by Klee, Signac, Bonnard and Riopelle.
  • Lawrence Gowing (1970) and Christopher Wright (1976) continued to accept it, but others dismissed it.
  • In 1993, Sotheby’s was approached by Baron Rolin, with a request to undertake new research on the painting.
  • A complete scientific study was begun in 1995 by Libby Sheldon of University College London, in collaboration with her colleague Catherine Hassall, and in 1997 Nicola Costaras of the Victoria and Albert Museum joined this team.. The investigation demonstrated that the picture was unquestionably 17th-century and that also that its technical composition was entirely consistent with Vermeer’s known working methods. In particular, the composition of the ground layers was found to be entirely comparable with other works by the artist, and the pigments used were also appropriate.
  • Rolin dies in 2002, and the painting is offered for sale by his heirs.
  • Sotheby’s auctions the painting to an unknown bidder for $30 million.
  • The painting is shown briefly at the Philadelphia Museum. The buyer finally turns out to be the number one suspect, Steve Wynn the Las Vegas casino mogul and art collector.
  • The painting disappears in Wynn’s main office.
  • It is exhibited in Tokyo along with other 6 other Vermeer’s from August 2 – December 14, 2008.
  • Norm Clarke of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the painting was sold by Wynn to an unknown buyer for $30 million.
  • The painting raises its head for the last time on Dec. 29 in Gallery 14A of the European paintings galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, It is labeled as from a “Private Collection.” It will be on view until June 1.

Damien Hirst (& Johannes Vermeer) at the Rijksmuseum

January 6th, 2009

Gary Schwartz, one of the most knowledgeable experts of Dutch 17th c. art, briefly mulled over the fashion of major museums who lend themselves to the cause of contemporary artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. Read his article.

Like it or not, Hirst sealed a pact with the Rijksmuseum  (where four of Vermeer’s works are permanently housed) to exhibit his world-famous diamond encrusted skull along with the artist’s personal selection of sixteen 17th-century paintings from the Rijksmuseum collection.

Not content, the Rijksmuseum also dedicated a special website to Hirst’s work that must have been meant to work somewhat like a lighten rod. It democratically invites all opinion to efficiently channel the negative away. And, yes, in a clean hi-tech way.

I propose Vermeer’s macabre passage above (a detail of his Allegory of Faith) hoping it might constitute proof he was on par with his English colleague at least is one respect. Most of us know that Vermeer died penniless … and as Marcel Proust wrote,“ obliged to begin over again a score of times a piece of work the admiration aroused by which will matter little to his worm-eaten body.”

Hirst need not tremble for his own fate, costing £14 million to produce, his skull was sold to anonymous investors for its asking price of £50 million, the highest price ever paid for a single work by a living artist.

Samuel van Hoogstraten Symposium

January 2nd, 2009

The universal art of Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678), painter, writer and courtier
Symposium: 9 January 2009

Universiteit van Amsterdam – Agnietenkapel
Oudezijdsvoorburgwal 231
NL-1012 EZ Amsterdam
The Netherlands

information from the organizers:
The versatile painter, poet, courtier and European traveller Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678), one of Rembrandt’s pupils, has received much scholarly attention in the last two decades. Whereas older historians allotted him a marginal role as a minor figure in his master’s studio, he is now recognized for his central position in the world of art and letters in the Dutch Golden Age. This new evaluation is mainly due to careful studies of his treatise on painting, Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst (Introduction to the Academy of Painting, 1678). His book has been mined for unique insights not only into Rembrandt’s working methods but also into profounder problems relative to Dutch art and culture, such as pictorial realism, imitation and illusion, the rise of landscape and still life and the status of the “learned artist.” Whereas traditional Rembrandt scholarship seems to have hit upon the limits posed by the available documents on the artist, the work of pupils like Van Hoogstraten keeps offering new possibilities for research. Recently, Van Hoogstraten’s book was allotted a place in the canon of Key Texts for the Cultural History of the Low Countries.

This conference will be the first meeting of Van Hoogstraten specialists from various countries, who will bring their different approaches and scholarly traditions to bear on his art and writing.

confirmed speakers:
Dr. Jan Blanc (Université de Lausanne)
Prof. Celeste Brusati (University of Michigan)
Dr. Herman Colenbrander (independent scholar, Amsterdam)
Dr. Hans-Jörg Czech (Wiesbaden Museum)
Dr. Michiel Roscam Abbing (independent scholar, Amsterdam)
Dr. Paul Taylor (The Warburg Institute, London)
Dr. Thijs Weststeijn (University of Amsterdam)

further information & registration

download program (pdf)