Archive for April, 2013

Johannes Vermeer home again

April 13th, 2013

Cheered by thousands, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands reopened today her country’s national museum after a 10-year renovation. And after years of whizzing around the world, the four Rijksmuseum Vermeers have finally come home for a much needed rest. Actually, the Milkmaid and Little Street logged only one trip aboard each, but the Woman in Blue Reading a Letter made a last minute trip around the globe while the travel lof of the Love Letter is too long to list (if you are up to this kind of thing I keep track of all Vermeer exhibitions here). Sending Vermeer’s Woman in Blue to Japan funded a highly detailed catalogue of Dutch Golden Age paintings, a three-volume set on artists born between 1600 and 1630. Meanwhile, the spectacular online database featuring 280,000 objects, half with accompanying images, has been completed.

The renovation of the Rijksmuseum took twice as long as expected and costs rose much higher than planned. Among the glitches, designers had to grapple with asbestos and the obligation to incorporate an existing bike path into their design. Administrators hope to double the attendance from one million pre-restoration visitors per year, to two million.

Coming soon to a movie theater near you: Johannes Vermeer

April 11th, 2013

After traveling blockbuster art exhibitions, art enthusiasts can begin queuing up to enjoy the great masters in front of their local cinema. The silver screen, let’s remember, has traditionally dodged the company of great painters except for a few Hollywood films of questionable educational value: Rembrandt, 1936 starring Charles Laughton; Van Gogh, 1956 starring Kirk Douglas and Vermeer, 2003 starring Colin Firth.

Three new movies, featuring “superstars” (lets get used to the hard-earned status) Manet, Munch and our man Johannes Vermeer, will air in over 1,000 theaters worldwide. The art art historian-narrator Tim Marlow calls them “VIP guided tours.” Aside from the fact that the domination “VIP” is overwhelmingly synonymous with bad taste, the high-definition documentaries aim at bringing the arts closer to unsuspecting millions around the world.

The films will feature Marlow explaining why each artist, sorry, superstar, is special, interlaced with curator interviews, artist profiles and backstage tours in 90-minutes, for an average price of $12.50. Julie Borchard-Young, co-owner of BY Experience, the company distributing the broadcasts, believes it is “a way for an armchair traveler to come to the arts world, have it brought to them.” The new BY Experience films will attempt to build upon niche success of its live series from the Met Opera and London’s National Theatre.

Whether one can define cinema and blockbuster art exhibitions as private or public experiences, it would be interesting to investigate if they factually stimulate viewers to seek out art on their own and form individual points of view or encourage them to take a passive posture and wait for the prepackaged experiences to be delivered at their door like the latest Amazon order via FedEx.

In any case, marketing fine art seems to be good money. The MET realized $11 million from the opera broadcasts last year, Rigoletto took in $2.6 million in North America, ranking it No. 12 in the weekend box office, beating Argo and Lincoln. Next stop, Vermeer vs. Transformers IV.

A reminder, the paintings are still there, where they always were.

Vermeer buildings virtually reconstructed

April 7th, 2013

Traux Studio has ingeniously reconstructed 3D models two historical Delft buildings: Mechelen, where Vermeer grew up, and the Old Men’s House, directly behind Mechelen which Vermeer presumably represented in his his early masterwork, The Little Street. Obviously, the model of the Old Mens House is based on Vermeer’s painting while the Mechelen was drawn from an engraving of c. 1720 by Leonard Schenk. Mechelen was one of the largest constructions on the Market Square. The reconstructed views can be viewed in hight-resolution and purchased online.

The Old Men’s House was torn down to make way for the new Delft St Luke Guild building during Vermeer’s lifetime. Mechelen was demolished in 1885 to make the way clear for fire-prevention equipment and no building stands in its place.  If you are into the finer points of the historical location of Vermeer’s Little Street, go to Philip Steadman’s online essay.

April 12 – Vermeer Lectures at the De Young Museum of Art

April 7th, 2013

film screening:
April 12, 2013 – 6:15 p.m.
Proust + Vermeer
(Dir. Richard Voorhees, 30 mins., in French with English subtitles)
Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park. 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco


If you are in the San Francisco area and are a Vermeer devotee, an evening at the De Young might be worthwhile. Arguably, the greatest French writer of the 20th century, Marcel Proust and one of the most fervent early admirers of Vermeer, wove many observations about the painter into his novel À la recherche du temps perdu. The most famous was the narrative of Bergotte, an aging art critic who leaves his sick bed in order to go see The View of Delft, suffers an attack and dies while admiring Vermeer’s painting and contemplating on the mysterious “petit pan de mur jaune.” Perhaps more than any other, Bergotte’s final thoughts before dying faithfully reflect Proust’s idea of art. (But which part of Vermeer’s View of Delft, if any, picture corresponds to the noted “petit pan de mur jaune”?) Click here.

Afterwards (7:00 p.m.) Kate Lusheck, Assistant Professor of Art History/Arts Management (University of San Francisco) and a specialist in 17th-century Northern Baroque art, discusses issues of artistic meaning, representation, and tradition in the paintings and prints of the Dutch Golden Age: Looking Beneath the Surface: Dutch Art and Meaning in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer.

Ticket information.

Looking again

April 6th, 2013

This side-by-side comparison of a fake Vermeer (right) and the detail of the Young Lady Seated at a Virginal (left) begs to be addressed. Notwithstanding that the latter has been accepted by important critics as an authentic work by Vermeer (it had languished in critical limbo for decades), many lay viewers find the Young Lady Seated at a Virginal a perplexing picture.

Had not a scientific committee established that the Young Lady Seated at a Virginal executed with materials and methods compatible with those used by Vermeer and some seventeenth-century Dutch painters, the work’s ideation might recall those of various twentieth-century Vermeer forgeries.

In these works, the forger reiterated a familiar Vermeer theme with a single figure surrounded by a few objects cherry picked from other pictures by the Delft master. In a sort of cat and mouse game, he occasionally flipped his copy-and-paste motifs left to right to make his plundering less evident. The final, uncomplicated whole was sprinkled with Vermeer’s mannerist touches which, however, fail to partake in the painting’s expressive fabric. No signature was added to the canvas knowing that it might raise more suspicion than approval. This reductionist strategy exploits the “simple” figure-against-blank-background motif of Vermeer’s authentic Lacemaker on a technically manageable scale contemporarily allowing the forger to evade direct competition with a genius on his favorite terrain: refined planimetric organization and the evocation of meaningful spatial depth.

The curious, naïve flavor—to post-Van Meegeren eyes at least—which characterizes these forgeries owes not to anything good in the forger’s heart but to the oversimplification to which he is constrained in order to mask his technical and organizational inadequacies. His malicious plan, then, was to cast a few tasty morsels of Vermeeresque bait and keep his bad cards as close to the vest as possible.

Do you think the Young Lady Seated at a Virginal is a Vermeer or or not, or just don’t know? Make your though known  on the poll on the sidebar to the right.

Art historian? Painter? Art buff? Critic? Neophyte? Vermeer fan? Connoisseur? Student? Copyist? Dabbler? Philosopher? Newby? Gallerist? Conservator? Wannabe? Art collector? Art novelist?

April 5th, 2013

Copying Vermeer's Lacemaker in the Louvre

I have just enabled comments on Essential Vermeer Time. So if you belong to any of the groups above (or in some altogether new category I haven’t heard of yet) AND have any thoughts about Vermeer, Dutch art, painting, art exhibitions, Essential Vermeer Time or about anything more or less related…why not leave a comment, criticism or question?

Looking forward to hearing from you,
Jonathan Janson

Vermeer exhibition catalogue on sale

April 5th, 2013

You can currently preorder a copy of the Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure exhibition catalogue directly from the National Gallery. Price £9.99. Item will be dispatched June 2013. Click here.

View spreads of this book here (2 MB PDF)

National Gallery, room 27

April 4th, 2013

The London National Gallery features virtual tours of 18 rooms in the museum. Room number 27 has Vermeer’s  Lady Seated at the Virginals. Use the zoom to get closer or move out for a panorama.

The  full screen version is particularly impressive. Click here.

Carousel viewer of Vermeer’s complete paintings

April 4th, 2013

I have just uploaded to Essential Vermeer a very simple JQuery carousel viewer of all of Vermeer’s paintings. To slide through painting by painting in chronological order,  just click on the “previous” or “next”  inks below the information box. Yes I know, it’s definitely not rocket science, but  it can be used to track down a painting by Vermeer  that you once saw but can’t indentify.

My real goal, however,  is to develop a viewer that would give the navigator various viewing options. For example, one might view the paintings in scale, in their frames, in the their present museum locations, by sibject matter  or even by significant details. One could also display all the faces of the women and men that appear in Vermeer’s interiors. Unfortunately, the tech needed to make a more complicated viewer is over my head for the moment. I enjoy suggestions and comments.

Are blockbuster art exhibitions doing more damage than good?

April 4th, 2013

Click here to read a though provoking article by Blake Gopnik on the current state of temporary art exhibitions. Fundamentally in line with Mr. Gopnik’s take, I wrote him the following email:

Dear Mr. Gopnik,
Thank you for the thoughtful and well written article. A personal experience if I may.


A moment of “calm” during a blockbuster
exhibition. Islooking at pictures this way
really doing any good?

The most memorable Vermeer exhibition I have ever attended was held in Modena Italy (2007), and featured, perhaps, Vermeer’s “worst” work: the National Gallery Lady Seated at the Virginals. Vermeer’s small picture was flanked by Dirck van Baburen’s Procuress (which appears in the background of Vermeer’s composition), a select few Dutch paintings, period instruments similar to those found in Vermeer’s painting, a few pieces of Delft ceramics and silence, a great deal of it. Witnessing one-to-one how Vermeer had transformed the seedy creatures of Baburen’s bordello scene, a few hand-carved wooden instruments, humble ceramic tiles and genre interiors depicted by modest artists, was moving.

The expert choice and physical proximity of the objects exhibited, both humble and lofty, made one another resonate. Obviously, the exhibition did not transform the late Vermeer into a masterwork, but it afforded insight (I would imagine rather inexpensively) not only about how the artist digested the world in which he lived and bizarrely elaborated it in paint, but something about the peculiar artist himself. Thanks to the curator Bert W. Meijer, this exhibition showed me something about the faint gray Lady Seated at the Virginals  that had always escaped me when I encountered her in the halls of National Gallery.

My best,
Jonathan Janson