Archive for February, 2009

Woman Holding a Balance travels to the Rijksmuseum

February 23rd, 2009

Woman Holding a Balance
11 March to 1 June 2009
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Vermeer’s Milkmaid and Woman Holding a Balance will be temporarily reunited in Amsterdam after 300 years. Vermeer devotees will recall that these two paintings were auctioned off there to the same buyer at the Dissius sale of 21 Vermeer paintings in 1696, 21 years after the artist had died.

Both works achieved handsome sums, 175 and 155 guilders respectively, inferior only to the much larger View of Delft at 200. Let’s remember that the average Dutch worker’s wage was something like 500 to 700 guilders per year.

The man who was willing to pay the price, Isaac Roooleuw, a Mennonite merchant, clearly knew what he was getting. He was a painter. However, Roooleuw enjoyed them very little since five years later he was forced to sell them by foreclosure, each to a different buyer.

Although these works are divergent in theme and technique and were made years apart, I can’t think of a more revealing couple in all of Vermeer’s oeuvre. The Milkmaid is the personification of earthly sunlight. The Woman Holding a Balance, on the other hand, possesses a moon-like splendor that when observed directly, eclipses even it own complicated allegorical structure. The viewer has the sensation that it is possible to physically penetrate the space of picture’s crystal-clear penumbra had it not been for the sacral figure of the young woman who waits for her scales to  balance.

I do hope that they will be displayed in close proximity.

Making your own Vermeer

February 21st, 2009

I have recently uploaded my new personal website which displays 7 interiors painted in oils and 10 watercolors of the suburban American landscape. Many of my colleagues and collectors find it hard to reconcile the two. But I simply paint for two different reasons. Here’s the first.

Ever since I saw my first Vermeer during RISD days, one of my goals has been to possess one of his works. Excluding the fact that I would eventually make or come into that kind of money, the only open venue was to do one myself (or at least an acceptable version).

Conceiving proper motifs wasn’t the real obstacle, on the contrary. By assuming the proper angle, it was striking to note how little seemed to have changed over the centuries. Everywhere I turned I saw, and still see today, Vermeer compositions. The looks, gestures and the simple sense of being there of today’s people engaged in letter writing and reading, courtship, study and music making appear identical as once did (the next time you see some young girl across the table batting in an email on her laptop, observe her expression when her hands come to stand still).

And then there was the indispensable ingredient of every Vermeer, the incessant activity of daylight. The laws which govern it are even more immutable than mankind’s daily activities. So there I had it, the plausibility of doing a contemporary Vermeer without a trace of anachronism.

The most problematic part was figuring out how to transform a theoretical Vermeer motif into a living picture with the primitive stuff we call paint and brush. Nobody at RISD had a clue and great pictures are not very reliable if considered as painting manuals.

Van Meegeren conference at MFA

February 11th, 2009

Vermeer and Van Meegeren: The Real and the Faux
Jonathan Lopez, author of The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren, and Ronni Baer, William and Ann Elfers Senior Curator European Paintings

Wed, Feb 25, 7 pm
Remis Auditorium

Dutch art forger Han van Meegeren became a folk hero at the end of World War II when he confessed to selling a fake Vermeer to Hermann Goering. Author Jonathan Lopez and curator Ronni Baer discuss the extravagantly sordid life of the world’s most notorious art forger and what he did to the image of the Vermeer we know and love.

Book signing follows.

MFA members, seniors and students $15: nonmembers/general admission $18.

Vermeer Tunes

February 9th, 2009

Traditional Music in the Time of Vermeer
by Adelheid Rech

Why a study of Dutch 17th c. folk music on a Vermeer site?

Perhaps too often the sublime order and technical perfection of Vermeer’s compositions lure us into forgetting that the artist was brought up in a tavern run by his no-frills, hard-working father. In Dutch taverns, brawls, business deals, cursing and serious drinking went on from sunrise until late night.  Every now and then, a knife was pulled (as the saying goes “one hundred Dutchmen, one hundred knives”).

But taverns were also scenes of harmless entertainment and  joyfully congregation with plenty of music.

Thus, a conspicuous slice of the artist’s  life never found its way into his paintings, a life jam-packed with popular religious and secular festivities, riotous gatherings, joyous marriages and solemn processions that marked the passage of the year each with its own music.  No, not the music you would expect to issue from any of Vermeer’s dreamlike compositions, but simple, infectious melodies, true “hits” of the moment which were spread by itinerant musicians. These tunes charmed lovers, delighted children and made the grueling toil of daily life a bit more bearable.

This multi-part study explores hurdy-gurdys, shawms and rommelpots and other instruments you most likely  never knew much less heard.

So have a peek and take listen to the musical world behind the the paintings you know so well.

Bigger is not always better

February 8th, 2009

Vermeer, Fabritius & De Hooch: Three Masterpieces from Delft
Feb. 14 – May 24, 2009

Recently some noted museums are taking to small, in-focus exhibitions.

This tiny, but exceptionally focused display sets side by side three master painters of the Delft School: Carel Fabritius, Pieter de Hoogh and Johannes Vermeer.

Fabritius’s interest in illusionism is highlighted in his painting The Goldfinch, one of the fascinating pictures of the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Its startling simplicity of figure against the stark white ground has often been seen as a possible starting point for Vermeer’s Woman with a Pearl Necklace.

The Goldfinch will be hung alongside Pieter de Hoogh’s Courtyard of a House in Delft, a far more complex work from the collection of The National Gallery, London. De Hoogh was one of the most delightfully innovative painters of genre interiors and probable source of inspiration for many of Vermeer’s own works.

Complementing these two works will be the Gallery’s own masterpiece, Vermeer’s Woman Writing a Letter with her Maid.

museum lectures:

15 February : 3.00
Johannes Vermeer ( 1632-1675)
Lecturer Dr. John Loughman, University College Dublin

17 February : 10.30
Introducing Three Masterpieces from Delft: Vermeer, Fabritius and De Hooch
Lecturer Dr Adriaan Waiboer, National Gallery of Ireland

22 February : 3.00
Carel Fabritius ( 1622-54) and Painting in Delft
Lecturer Dr John Loughman, University College Dublin

24 February : 10.30
Pieter de Hooch in the context of Dutch Painting
Lecturer William Gallagher, Royal Hibernian Academy

Rembrandt’s face discovered in Jan Lievens paintings

February 3rd, 2009

Its not every day that one discovers a portrait of Rembrandt. But now, not one, but four previously unknown images of Rembrandt’s face in works by Jan Lievens have been identified by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., curator of northern baroque painting at the National Gallery of Art.  Wheelock said he became “vaguely conscious” that it was Rembrandt’s likeness with the artist’s puffy jowls and famous bulbous nose while he was doing research for an exhibition on Lievens soon opening at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Although it is well known that Rembrandt and Lievens had shared ideals and experiences in the first years of their careers, this discovery sheds new light on the intimate side of their relationship.  According to Wheelock, it is Rembrandt who sits in the center of Lievens’  The Cardplayers (detail lower left) making it earliest known image of Rembrandt, just 17 years old. Rembrandt’s features can also be made out in Lievens’ Lute Player (detail upper left).

Although  considered in his own age a child prodigy, art  history has been less kind to Jan Lievens than Rembrandt.  During his adolescence, Lievens’ works were sought by princely patrons in The Hague and London before he reached the age twenty-five. But with the stellar rise in Rembrandt’s fame as the greatest artist of the Dutch golden age, Lievens’ own artistic reputation inexorably declined. This exhibition affords an overview of Lievens’ life and art drawing much needed attention to this neglected master. The catalogue essay argues that in many respects Lievens was the initiator of the stylistic and thematic developments that characterized both artists’ work in the late 1620s.

Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered runs February 7 to April 26 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. See the excellent website dedicated to this spectacular exhibition.