Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Vermeer exhibition catalogue

October 16th, 2011

Human Connections in the Age of Vermeer
by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.  and Danielle H.A.C. Lokin
Scala Publishers Ltd

This book focuses on the many forms of communication that existed in seventeenth-century Dutch society between family members, lovers, and professional acquaintances, both present and absent. The forty-four carefully selected Dutch genre paintings include major works by many of the finest masters of the period, including Johannes Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch, Gerard ter Borch and Gabriel Metsu. Vermeer’s three masterpieces about love letters form the core of the exhibition as they are profound examples of the power of communication. Dutch artists of the seventeenth century portrayed the wide range of emotions elicited by the various forms of communication, not only in the manner in which they render gestures and facial expressions of personal interactions, but also in the ways in which they show men and women responding to the written word. The painters often introduced objects from daily life that had symbolic implications, among them musical instruments, to enrich the pictorial narratives of their scenes. Published in conjunction with the exhibition Communication: Visualizing the Human Connection in the Age of Vermeer  (2011-2012), which celebrates the 400th anniversary of the diplomatic exchanges between Japan and the Netherlands, this book connects the pictorial and the literary aspects of Dutch cultural traditions during the Golden Age.

Vermeer’s Women exhibition catalogue

October 15th, 2011

Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence
by Marjorie E. Wieseman, Mr. Wayne Franits & H. Perry Chapman
224 pages, Yale University Press

product description from

Focusing on the extraordinary Lacemaker from the Musée du Louvre, this beautiful book investigates the subtle and enigmatic paintings by Johannes Vermeer that celebrate the intimacy of the Dutch household. Moments frozen in paint that reveal young women sewing, reading or playing musical instruments, captured in Vermeer’s uniquely luminous style, recreate a silent and often mysterious domestic realm, closed to the outside world, and inhabited almost exclusively by women and children.

Three internationally recognized experts in the field explain why women engaged in mundane domestic tasks, or in pleasurable pastimes such as music making, writing letters, or adjusting their toilette, comprise some of the most popular Dutch paintings of the seventeenth century. Among the most intriguing of these compositions are those that consciously avoid any engagement with the viewer. Rather than acknowledging our presence, figures avert their gazes or turn their backs upon us; they stare moodily into space or focus intently on the activities at hand. In viewing these paintings, we have the impression that we have stumbled upon a private world kept hidden from casual regard.

The ravishingly beautiful paintings of Vermeer are perhaps the most poetic evocations of this secretive world, but other Dutch painters sought to imbue simple domestic scenes with an air of silent mystery, and the book also features works by some of the most important masters of 17th-century Dutch genre painting, among them Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Nicolaes Maes, and Jan Steen.

Art of Painting exhibition catalogue available online

February 1st, 2010

Although I have not yet had the chance to see it, the Kunsthistorisches Museum catalogue of the Art of Painting exhibition is currently on sale at the museum online shop. Below is the URL and a little more information.

Vermeer: Die Malkunst

exhibition catalog 2010, 259 pg., numerous illustr.,
paperback in German
+ 73 S. English Translations of the Essays
Order number: 24770
24,8 x 28cm

price: EUR 29,90

bookshop link: <>

The museum also proposes a number of Vermeer Art of Painting spinoffs like scarfs, shoulder bags, coffee cups, jigsaw puzzles and magnets as well as the more conventional postcards and reproductions.

Still on the Van Meegeren trail

June 1st, 2009

The name Van Meegeren is still a potent magnet. Eroll Morrris of the New York Times digs in and serves up a useful mulit-part article on the most notorious of all art-theft case including interviews with the authors the two most recent books on the subject, Jonathan Lopez and Edward Dolnick.

See my own Essential Vermeer interview with Lopez here:

and his take on the possibilities of the nightmare happening again:

To see something new, go back to the sources

March 17th, 2009

Essential Vermeer interview with Jonathan Lopez, author of the The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren.

Han van Meegeren, the man who made Vermeers for decades, is justifiably the most written-about forger of all times. The most recent and original book on the topic is written by New York art historian Jonathan Lopez. Lopez casts new light on an old story by  fine tuning the results of years of patient research.

Two key points of the book are Van Meegeren’s hitherto underplayed Nazi sympathies and the mind set which allowed the greatest forger of all times to dupe the leading art specialists of his time. In order to explain the chasm between today’s unanimous view of Van Meegeren’s fakes as unsightly imitations and their original enthusiastic reception as true masterworks by Vermeer, Lopez reveals that “a fake doesn’t necessarily succeed or fail according to the fidelity with which it replicates the distant past but on the basis of its power to sway the contemporary mind.”

Jonathan opened up to an interview in which he explains what went into the book’s making and some fascinating side thoughts on Van Meegeren the man, whose brilliant darkness is probably better understood by Lopez than anyone else.

Vermeer’s hat

March 7th, 2009

If you feel comfortable with your knowledge of Vermeer, Canadian historian of China Timothy Brook provides a new  lens for examining the artist’s work from a different point of view: Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World (2007).

Here’s my interview with the author:

and very worthwhile podscast:

“For those who think they have mastered all the ins and outs of the seventeenth century Netherlands and particularly the country portrayed by the marvelously stay-at-home Dutch painters, Timothy Brook’s fine book provides a shock. By way of Vermeer’s pictures, he takes us through doorways into a suddenly wider universe, in which tobacco, slaves, spices, beaver pelts, China bowls, and South American silver are wrenching together hitherto well-insulated peoples. We hear behind the willow-pattern calm the crash of waves and cannon. A common humanity with a shared history comes about, with handshakes and treaties, shipwrecks and massacres, as trade expands and the world shrinks.”

Anthony Bailey, author of  Vermeer:  A View of Delft.

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.

Van Meegeren Lecture in Washington

December 18th, 2008

I would not miss the lecture or the book.

The Man Who Made Vermeers:
Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren

Sunday, January 11, 2009, 2:00 p.m.
East Building Concourse Auditorium, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Jonathan Lopez discusses aspects of his recently published book, The Man Who Made Vermeers: Han van Meegeren’s Life in Forgery. Book signing to follow. Sunday Lectures at the National Gallery are free and open to the public on a first-come-first-serve basis.

BTW, The Man Who Made Vermeers is fifth of the 10 Amazon Best Books of 2008 in the Arts & Photography section. Well deserved.

More about thieves (and black paint)

December 15th, 2008

Although art theft is a fairly fashionable topic, it is not one of my favorites most likely because it has less to do with art and more to do with theft. So the upcoming book about the sordid Gardener theft (which netted Vermeer’s Concert among its victims) is off my reading list for the time being.

Moreover, the loss of The Concert saddens me in particular because it was the first Vermeer I ever saw and one that taught me a big, free lesson as an art student at RISD.  The painting convinced me that, instead of opening doors, my painting teachers had more simply replaced old dogmas with new dogmas which were more or less as restrictive as the first.

Then, as throughout most of the 20th c., one of the most entrenched mantras of realist painting technique was that black pigment would single-handedly destroy the luminosity of shadows. Black was in fact an inexorable sign of the Sunday painter.  But even after my first glance at the real Concert, it seemed obvious that Vermeer had made abundant use of it to render the play of light on the background wall lending this passage a rare pearlessence full of mystery and nuance. Moreover, black was one of the principle components of the composition’s deepest shadows. Scientific analysis reveals that in one form or another, black is the only pigment which can be found in every canvas by Vermeer.

Back to the book:

PW Daily lets us know about the upcoming The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser. In a pill, here’s the story.

In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, thieves posing as cops entered Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and left with a haul unrivaled in the art world, including three Rembrandts and a Vermeer, valued today at $600 million. Boser, a contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report, turned amateur sleuth after the death of a legendary independent fine arts claims adjuster, Harold Smith, who was haunted by the Gardner robbery. Boser carried on Smith’s work, pursuing leads as varied as James “Whitey” Bulger’s Boston mob and the IRA. Along the way, he visited felons—including the notorious art thief Myles Connor—and Bob Wittman, the FBI’s only art theft undercover agent. Boser’s rousing account of his years spent collecting clues large and small is entertaining enough to make readers almost forget that, after 18 years, the paintings have still not been found: the museum is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to their return.

Steadman lecture

December 11th, 2008

Philip Steadman, the English architect who stirred up so much discussion with his book about Vermeer and the camera obscura, will be giving a lecture called Anamorphosis in Holland in the 17th Century: Van Hoogstraten, Fabritius and Vermeer at the National Gallery in London, Saturday 13 December, 10.30am – 4pm.

I expect he will be examining the intriguing lid of the painted virginal in Vermeer’s Lady Standing at a Virginal.

See my interview with Steadman here.