Archive for the ‘Vermeer Going’ Category

Vermeer-related film

January 31st, 2015
onscreen

Girl with a Pearl earring and other Treasures from the Mauritshuis
produced by Exhibition on Screen
in cinemas from 13 January
http://www.exhibitiononscreen.com/girl-with-a-pearl-earring

from Exhibition on Screen’ website:
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer is one of the most enduring paintings in the history of art. Even today, its recent world tour garnered huge queues lining up for the briefest glimpse of its majestic beauty – In Japan 1.2 million people saw the exhibition. Yet the painting itself is surrounded in mystery. This beautifully filmed new documentary seeks to investigate the many unanswered questions associated with this extraordinary piece. Who was this girl? Why and how was it painted? Why is it so revered?

After its world tour, the Girl with a Pearl Earring returned to the much-loved Mauritshuis in The Hague, Netherlands, which has just completed extensive renovations. Enjoying unparalleled exclusive access to this historical exhibition, the film takes the audience on a journey as it seeks to answer many of the questions surrounding this enigmatic painting and its mysterious creator, Vermeer. Using the recently completed and highly complex makeover of the museum as its starting point, the film goes on a behind the scenes detective journey to seek out the answers that lie within the other masterpieces housed in the collection.

Vermeer platoon

December 2nd, 2013
vermeer-gazing

After about 207 or so Vermeer exhibitions and innumerable articles about them, the unsung get their due. As far as I am aware, Randy Kennedy (New York Times) may just be the first journalist to have ever written about that discreet platoon of Vermeer devotees who travel under cover to be with the Master for a few hours. See, “For Fervent Fans of the Dutch Masters, ‘It’s a Dream Come True'”.

Even thought they don’t know me, members of the platoon know my website and they write to me. They are happily married couples, college students, librarians, housewives and lawyers. Most have enough money to travel but some must make real sacrifices. The emails they send are sometimes longish and passionate, often just a note about the most recent Vermeer encounter. A few are hurt because they will never see Vermeer’s Concert stolen by underworld thugs in 1990 and never recovered. A few send me photographs of themselves standing in front of the latest painting with wide grins. What links this heterogamous group is an urgent need to see, one or more Vermeers, but every Vermeer painting on the globe. One thing they never, EVER, omit in their communication is the number of Vermeer paintings they’ve seen so far.

Mind you, this is not trophy hunting. This is not a fad. Tear-jerking  novels or an block-buster exhibitions aren’t what it’s about. It’s deeply personal and it goes on for years, in silence.

I have met a few of the platoon when I travel to see Vermeer (standing in front of a Vermeer is wonderful, standing in front of a Vermeer with someone who likes Vermeer as much as you is more so). Some hold that I am an expert and want to know if Vermeer really used a camera obscura, but also which are my favorite Vermeer paintings. Then they tell me theirs. Some are as articulate as any seasoned art historian. Some don’t seem to comprehend at all why they love Vermeer but nonetheless wind up revealing to me something about his painting I had never thought of.

I am glad to be one of the Vermeer platoon and glad my website occasionally connects me with my companions and, hopefuly, offers them useful information, food for thought and a way to express some of their emotions.

Oh yes! I have seen all but two Vermeers: The Procuress and the Berlin Glass of Wine.

Vermeer’s Guitar Player returns home

November 26th, 2013
Vermeer's Guitar Player agina in the Kenwood House

The Kenwood House, one of Britain’s most historic stately homes, has finally been restored to its former beauty. With the aid of conservation charity, eight rooms have been re-presented and reinterpreted to reference different periods in the building’s history. The newly refurbished rooms now feature family trails, an interactive dolls house, original letters and architectural designs. Naturally, in situ is a priceless collection of artworks by Vermeer, .Rembrandt, Van Dyke and Gainsborough which had been collected by Edward Cecil Guinness, First Earl of Iveagh. The work, which took 18 months and cost  £6 million,  is now drawing to a close with a reopening date set for Thursday, November 28. Vermeer’s  late Guitar Player will be in the original location after its was shown for the period of the Kenwood’s restoration and the London National Gallery.

Click here for a BBC video about the restoration.

Click here more about for painting.

Click here for information about the restoration from the Kenwood House website.

drawn from:
Aaron Sharp, “Restored to its former glories: Stately home which houses masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer set to reopen to public”, Mail Online.com. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2513611/Kenwood-House-houses-masterpieces-Rembrandt-Vermeer-set-reopen.html>

When getting it right is too easy

September 7th, 2013

One of the pleasures of being a painter is being able (more or less) to copy paintings you love or are interested in. Since I had seven Vermeers (by my count five and a half) at a 35-minute walk from my home here in Rome last year (and free entrance), I took some time off and made three copies: the NG Lady Standing Lady at the Virginals, the NGA The Girl with a Red Hat and the newly attributed Young Woman at the Virginal (New York private collection).

my-rolin

The London experience was dreadful. Although I cheated by projecting the drawing onto the canvas, had a state-of-the-art digital image of the Lady Standing Lady at the Virginals on my studio monitor and could check my progress by viewing at the original any time I wished, things went wrong. The make-or-break tonal values broke down. The contours looked weary, the modeling exhausted and even the local colors, which in theory should be approachable, were off key. Yes, time does things to paintings that no painter can do, but after 40+ years at the easel, I though I could do better.

The Girl with a Red Hat went better—in the beginning. I got the hat glazed properly and was foolish enough to take a deep breath and whack in the background all at once, spontaneously, as it should be done. Not bad. Obviously, I postponed doing the face for as long possible knowing it is one of Vermeer’s most finessed. But when I finally threw caution to the wind and attempted to approximate the play of silvery greens and pinks that make the lady glow, I got something like a face made with dark and light mud.

Last try, the New York picture: a work I do not admire and really don’t want a copy of. But since I am doing a lengthy analysis on the miniscule painting, I decided it would be a good idea to walk in Vermeer’s shoes to see what might have caused him (or whoever made it) to paint such an unsual work. What surprised me is that I didn’t get any surprises. Things went as expected. The grays were straightforward grays, the yellow was yellow and the uniformly non-descript brown shadows were very nondescript. Contours were easy (evenly sharp, the easiest to do) and the tonal values were hardly challenging. Yes, my background gray is a bit too light (maybe that’s better), the cheeks did not come out pink enough and I couldn’t bring myself to make the shadows of the face as dark as the original’s, but the painting presented no technical nuance that was substantially not within the reach of my modest talents. These are shoes I can wear.

Now that I have three Vermeers for myself, I’ll keep two turned to the wall for the moment and one framed, but hung somewhere in my house where I won’t see it too much.

Vermeer going #2

May 18th, 2013
italy

Part of the reason why Vermeer’s Woman with a Lute is not anyone’s darling is that the picture shows its age: it has been rubbed, scrubbed and pretty well deprived of nuance anyone would expect of a Vermeer. It is a bare-bones canvas, a sea of brackish browns and unattractive grays with only a lick or two of what anyone would call color. Moreover, the young lutenist is no Hollywood starlet. She is “mousey,” if you like the picture, or “homely” to downright “ugly” if you don’t. Visitors at the MET nod at her respectfully— she is after all a Vermeer— but quickly move on to one of the museum’s more amenable images.

Oddly, I have always found it one of Vermeer’s most moving canvases. Caught between a spacious map of Europe, a massive oak table and a hanging slate blue curtain, the girl’s lute turns one way and her face another in search of something the painter does not reveal. To those few attuned to the picture and able to set aside its pitiful state of conservation, it coveys a sense of hope, of searching for something of great value, but also of potential loss.

When the Woman with a Lute came to Rome last year I counted on renewing our dialogue but didn’t expect to receive anything more than what I had already gotten although the passing of time frequently allows us to see new things in familiar pictures. On this rendezvous, I was particularly struck by the monochrome map which I hadn’t thought about too intensely because I had always taken it primarily as a compositional device, a means for focusing the viewer’s attention on the girl or, perhaps, an allusion to her fanciful dreams of a faraway land or a faraway man. As coincidence has it, the map features Italy, the country where the picture was for the moment being exhibited for the first time after it left Vermeer’s easel.

As I stood in front in front of my favorite Vermeer girl (love is blind) and her big brown map of Europe I could not help but wonder what the artist thought of as he sat on a wooden stool and carefully painted the Italian shoreline. What did he know about Italy? How many Italians had he met? Who were his favorite Italian painters? Was he familiar with Petrarchan love poetry? Had he ever desired to visit Rome or Venice or was he, like his most illustrious colleagues Rembrandt and Frans Hals, content to remain where he were born? Or perhaps, for the painter the Italian coastline was just a boot-shaped contour to be rendered as accurately as possible with a fine brush and a bit of black and raw umber. One thing is almost certain, he could have never foreseen that 350 years later more than 300,000 Italians would have queued up in Rome, the heart of the grandiose Italian Renaissance, to see his meek little girl.

Click here for a high-resolution image of the painting.

Vermeer going #1

April 17th, 2013
glare

Although most would fault me for the dreadful photograph to the left, it does have the merit of conveying how if often feels to view a Vermeer at a blockbuster exhibition.

As I had promised in a post below to express some of my Vermeer-going experiences, here is one that deals with a Vermeer exhibition that took place a 35-minute walk from my house here in Rome last year. Perhaps a bit whiny for positivists (those who believe anything that promotes art is good…BTW, I don’t) but it is nonetheless an experience that many of us have shared at blockbuster exhibitions.

Considering their Girl with a Wineglass of great value, the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum demanded it be enclosed in an acclimatized case during its Rome sojourn. This meant that the thick protective glass of the box and the glass of the picture’s frame obediently reflected an “EXIT” sign, various overhead spotlights and a nearby gilt-framed De Hooch. There was really no way of eliminating the reflections unless once one stood obliquely to the side of the picture and danced a bit from left to right, the few times room for maneuvering was available.

The picture was so distant and so dimly lit that I was unable to show (off) to a fellow exhibition goer that in the miraculously depicted stained-glass window motif, Vermeer had represented a figure holding a bridle which, according to art historians, is the picture’s iconographical key. Although iconography is not a language that fires my imagination, the three curious ducks under the bridle do but were invisible as well. I shall spare you descriptions of the dots, dashes and flicks Vermeer’s majestic brushing that were impossible to make out.

Having been strapped before an easel and painted  for more than four decades, I feel safe to say that I can usually tell the difference between a painting and a reproduction. And yet, had I not knelt down in front of the Vermeer and seen the glare reveal the irregularities of the canvas weave near the borders of the painting, I would not have sworn that the it was the real Vermeer rather than a state-of-the-art preproduction. At this point, it does not seen whiny to ask why tens thousands of dollars for insurance should be spent and a pictures should undergoe travel risks in order to  exhibit  a picture that people can’t really see.

Mind you, the Anton Ulrich has every  right to protect their painting as they see fit, but paintings are usually better seen than taken on faith.

The dangers and delights of traveling Vermeers

April 15th, 2013
looking_at_vermeer

Although after years of Vermeer-going I would love  to take a side once and for all, my feelings about traveling Vermeer exhibitions remains as ambivalent as ever. On one hand, I, and obviously millions of other worthy souls, would have never experienced certain Vermeers had they not been shipped closer to home. On the other hand, expenses and risks exist.

The possibility of a plane carrying the Girl with Pearl Earring to Japan might crash on Siberian permafrost, a terrorist attack  or some other unforeseeable event might occur while the painting is on tour cannot be ruled out. Don’t roll your eyes, an earthquake actually happened while Vermeer’s Geographer was hanging on a Tokyo museum wall and the Woman in Blue Reading a Letter escaped by a few months one of Japan’s greatest national tragedy, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The recently restored painting was, in fact,  headed to Sendai, one of the most damaged cities. The risks of fragile, centuries-old canvas being damaged through handling, climatic jumps or road bumps would appear relatively simple to evaluate, but as you would expect, there is great debate as to what really happens to globe-trotting canvases. It is rumored that some museums have declined reporting damages to loaned artworks. But things can surely go wrong at home as well, whether home be the tiny,  off-the-beaten-track Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum where Vermeer’s Girl with a Wineglass is permanently housed  or the Metropolitan Fortress of Art. The Love Letter was stolen, the Guitar Player was stolen, the Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid  was stolen and The Concert stolen and never recovered, all from the museums where the works are permanently housed.

Let’s get back to people who are looking at the paintings. Heads can be counted, what goes on inside them cannot. Is it more desirable that ten out of ten thousand  visitors have life-changing experiences while the others more or less forget and move along to the next blow-out exhibition or is it better if that the ten thousand might have a mildly significant experience but no one gets too riled up? And if just one lone visitor among the millions who have attended the last decades’ Vermeer exhibitions were to receive the inspiration to become the world’s next Vermeer?

In essence,  the problem boils down to opportunity. We must calculate the money spent (usually lots and lots), add to it the risks and compare that sum to the results of a rather bizarre average: the overall quality of visitor experience divided by the quantity of visitor experiences. If this isn’t  a pit of snakes….what is?

One thing is certain, the impossibility of evaluating with any objectivity what goes on inside heads of hundreds of thousands of traveling art exhibition visitors (and the effect that this cumulative experience might have on the common good) is a blessing to those who support the exhibitions (i.e. museums and their staff). It is, instead, a curse to the arguments of those who see in traveling exhibitions more potential for damage than good.

I will follow with a few posts on my variegated Vermeer going experiences hoping to give some color to the gray picture above.