Archive for the ‘On Vermeer’ Category

Vermeer-related article

January 31st, 2015

“Most rare workmen”: Optical practitioners in early seventeenth-century Delft”
Huib J. Zuidervaart and Marlise Rijks
The British Journal for the History of Science, pp. 1 – 33, (March 2014)

online article can be accessed at:
http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9202672&fileId
=S0007087414000181

abstract:
A special interest in optics among various seventeenth-century painters living in the Dutch city of Delft has intrigued historians, including art historians, for a long time. Equally, the impressive career of the Delft microscopist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek has been studied by many historians of science. However, it has never been investigated who, at that time, had access to the mathematical and optical knowledge necessary for the impressive achievements of these Delft practitioners. We have tried to gain insight into Delft as a ‘node’ of optical knowledge by following the careers of three minor local figures in early seventeenth-century Delft. We argue that through their work, products, discussions in the vernacular and exchange of skills, rather than via learned publications, these practitioners constituted a foundation on which the later scientific and artistic achievements of other Delft citizens were built. Our Delft case demonstrates that these practitioners were not simple and isolated craftsmen; rather they were crucial components in a network of scholars, savants, painters and rich virtuosi. Decades before Vermeer made his masterworks, or Van Leeuwenhoek started his famous microscopic investigations, the intellectual atmosphere and artisanal knowledge in this city centered on optical topics.

Especially of interest is the authors’ tie between three optical practitioners who lived in Delft simultaneously with Vermeer. One of them, Jacob Spoors, was in 1674 the notary of Vermeer and his mother-in-law Maria Thins. Another was an acquaintance of Spoors, the military engineer Johan van der Wyck, who made an optical device in Delft in 1654, most likely a camera obscura. A report about the demonstration in nearby The Hague has been preserved. Van der Wyck also made telescopes and microscopes and an apparatus that probably was a kind of perspective box. As a telescope maker he was preceded by Evert Harmansz Steenwyck, brother-in- law of the Leiden painter David Bailly and father of two Delft still-life painters: Harman and Pieter Steenwyck. The latter was familiar with Vermeer’s father Reynier Jansz Vermeer, at a time when the young Vermeer was still living with his parents. According to the authors, this is the first real archival evidence that such a device existed in Delft during Vermeer’s life.

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-inspired poetry

January 31st, 2015
white2

Vermeer in Hell
by Michael White
2013
http://www.perseabooks.com/detail.php?bookID=114

from publisher’s website:
Through the paintings of Vermeer, Michael White explores new landscapes and transforms familiar ones in this extraordinary new collection of poems. This captivating masterwork transports us across eras and continents, from Confederate lynchings to the bombing of Dresden, through its lyrical inhabitations of some of Vermeer’s most revered paintings, each one magically described and renewed. More than mere ekphrasis, Michael White explores the transformative possibilities of great art in his fourth collection.

reviews:
“Vermeer in Hell is Michael White’s museum of ghosts and shades, of narratives woven masterfully out of the personal and historical alike—out of the lived, the envisioned, the loved, and the terrible. Rarely have I felt the ekphrastic to be as dramatic as in White’s tour through the portraits of Vermeer, with its history of fiery damages, wars and afflictions, but also its own depiction of ‘love’s face as it is.’ Out of Michael White’s vision, each poem achieves for us the delicacy and durability of Vermeer’s own art.”
—David Baker

“Nearly every one of Michael White’s new poems is the equivalent of a quiet stroll through a blazing fire, igniting the reader’s imagination. His insights are frightening and comforting at the same time, his craft allowing for the most surprising and thrilling of associations. Vermeer in Hell is a collection that belongs in the room with all of the traditions of our language’s poetry, but it brings something completely original to us, too. It is not an overstatement to call this poetry Genius.”
—Laura Kasischke

“In these elegant, powerful poems, Michael White pays homage to a great painter while engaging social realities that affect us all. They are brave, beautiful poems linked by authentic vision and a sensitive, educated ear.”
—Sam Hamill

Vermeer-inspired memoir

January 31st, 2015
white1

Travels in Vermeer: A Memoir
by Michael White
2015
http://www.perseabooks.com/detail.php?bookID=113

from the publisher’s webpage:
In the midst of a bad divorce, the poet Michael White unexpectedly discovers the consoling power of Johannes Vermeer’s radiant vision. Over the course of a year, he travels to Amsterdam, The Hague, Delft, Washington D.C., New York, and London to view twenty-four paintings, including nearly all of Vermeer’s major work.

“A certain chain of events has left me open, on a startlingly deep level, to Vermeer’s gaze, to his meditation on our place on earth,” White writes.

Part travelogue, part soul-searching investigation into romantic love and intimate discourse on art, this erudite and lyrical memoir encompasses the author’s past–his difficult youth, stint in the Navy, alcoholism, and the early death of his first wife–and ends with his finding grace and transformation through deeply affecting encounters with the paintings of Vermeer, an artist obsessed with romance and the inner life, who has captivated millions, from the seventeenth century until now.

reviews:
“All the sorrow of love is compressed into White’s memoir. But so, too, is all the consolation of art. Nothing I’ve read…suggests so eloquently what [Vermeer’s paintings] hold for a contemporary viewer…Figures it took a poet to get it this beautifully, thrillingly right.”
— Peter Trachtenberg

“[Travels in Vermeer] touches on the mysteries of seduction, loss, and the artistic impulse. It shows how time can be interrupted.”
—Clyde Edgerton

“This book is a treasure and a guide. It is a type of healing for the intellect and the heart.”
—Rebecca Lee

about the author:
Michael White is the author of four collections of poetry and a memoir, Travels in Vermeer (Persea 2015), and has published widely in respected periodicals, including The Paris Review, The New Republic, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Western Humanities Review, and the Best American Poetry. White teaches poetry and is presently chair of the Creative Writing department at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

publisher’s webpage:
http://www.perseabooks.com/detail.php?bookID=114

For what it matters….

December 2nd, 2014

After trotting thousands of miles around the hemisphere during the restoration of the Mauritshuis, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring thought her performance would come to an end when she got home.

How wrong she was.

winner-02

If I have translated the Dutch news dispatch correctly, the Mauritshuis staged a competition inspired by the Japanese Vermeer enthusiast Shin Ichi Fukuoka which called on other Vermeer enthusiasts to submit a photograph of their own living rooms that includes a reproduction of the iconic Girl with a Pearl Earring on one of its walls. The winner, so to speak, would have his or her living room reassembled on the premises of the Mauritshuis with the iconic picture incorporated in the manner of photo stand-ins (once called carnival cutouts) that are present in every zoo, children’s museum and theme park in America. The lucky winner was recently announced on Mauritshuis Facebook page, and she is Elsa Oudshoorn.

Although I can’t quite grasp the sense of the Mauritshuis’ initiative, it would appear to be distantly related to the “win-an-evening-with-your-favorite-movie-star” competition of days gone bye. I have no idea what it would be like to sit in a reconstruction of my living room with a real Vermeer peeping through a hole, but I can imagine how foolish one might feel to have won the other type competition and be sitting at a dining table across from a Hollywood starlet only to discover that she would rather be anywhere in the world except face to face with one her fans.

photostandin-01

Those who read this blog regularly will have understood that my own enthusiasm for Vermeer’s art stops more or less at building the Essential Vermeer, reporting “Vermeer news” and looking at Vermeer’s real pictures when life permits. And they will also have intuited that I do not subscribe to the “anything-that-draws-people-to-art-is-good” philosophy (see here, here and here). On the contrary.

So, my only hope is that I got the Mauritshuis story wrong or that Vermeer was the type of fun-loving Dutchman who wouldn’t have minded having one of his pictures stuck in the hole of a photo stand-in of a funny green dinosaur or an Old West jail.

New Vermeer-Related Publication

August 1st, 2014

Holland’s Golden Age in America: Collecting the Art of Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals
by Esmée Quodbach
ed. New York (The Frick Collection) and University Park (The Pennsylvania State University Press) 2014

from the Pennsylvania State University Press website:
Americans have long had a taste for the art and culture of Holland’s Golden Age. As a result, the United States can boast extraordinary holdings of Dutch paintings. Celebrated masters such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, and Frans Hals are exceptionally well represented, but many fine paintings by their contemporaries can be found as well. In this groundbreaking volume, fourteen noted American and Dutch scholars examine the allure of seventeenth-century Dutch painting to Americans over the past centuries. The authors of Holland’s Golden Age in America explain in lively detail why and how American collectors as well as museums turned to the Dutch masters to enrich their collections. They examine the role played by Dutch settlers in colonial America and their descendants, the evolution of American appreciation of the Dutch school, the circumstances that led to the Dutch school swiftly becoming one of the most coveted national schools of painting, and, finally, the market for Dutch pictures today. Richly illustrated, this volume is an invaluable contribution to the scholarship on the collecting history of Dutch art in America, and it is certain to inspire further research.

In addition to the editor, the contributors are Ronni Baer, Quentin Buvelot, Lloyd DeWitt, Peter Hecht, Lance Humphries, Walter Liedtke, Louisa Wood Ruby, Catherine B. Scallen, Annette Stott, Peter C. Sutton, Dennis P. Weller, Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., and Anne T. Woollett.

This book provides answers for anyone who has ever wondered why there are so many great Dutch paintings in U.S. collections. Essays by leading curators and scholars draw on the history of art, as well as an understanding of cultural, economic, and political conditions, to illuminate the American taste for seventeenth-century Dutch painting.
Emilie Gordenker, Director, Mauritshuis, The Hague

Drawing on the experience and insights of many of her colleagues in museums and the academy, Esmée Quodbach brings us an impressively broad overview of the early collectors of Dutch art in America. This essential volume provides illuminating context for major figures such as J. P. Morgan and welcomes unsung heroes such as Robert Gilmor, Jr., onto this stage, but also lifts the curtain on early colonial as well as contemporary collections. These varied accounts are spiked with color, drama, and highlights, including the story of the wealthy collector who has to ask, “Who is Vermeer?”
David de Witt, Bader Curator of European Art, Queen’s University

Esmée Quodbach is Assistant Director of the Center for the History of Collecting at The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library in New York.

http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-06201-3.html

Saint Praxedis sold for $10,687,160

July 9th, 2014

praxedis-03

The London-based auction house Christie’s reported via a Twitter feed that the Saint Praxedis (101.6 x 82.6 cm.) was sold on Tuesday, July 8 for $10,687,160 (£6,242,500). This figure barely higher that than the auction house’s lowest estimate of $10,284,000 but considerably lower than the upper estimate of $13,712,000. The painting was sold after a few bids to an Asiatic client. The painting was sold after a few bids to an Asiatic client.

At the moment, the low price paid for the Saint Praxedis suggests that the results of the scientific analysis were less than convincing and that it was bought in hopes that future critical or scientific investigations will strengthened its attribution.

In 2004, Sotheby’s sold the miniscule Woman Seated at the Virginals for $42 million (£16.2 million) a price five times greater than the auction house’s initial estimate. Previous to the two sales, the authorship of both works had been for debated for decades. On occasion of the sales the picture were proposed as authentic Vermeer’s largely the basis of scientific analysis spearheaded, in both cases, by the respective auction houses.

Before the painting was sold, Christie’s reported that after having examined the picture the conservator Libby Sheldon said that although no firm conclusion about the exact date of the picture’s Vermeer signature could be reached, she believed that it is nonethless “old.” In 1998 , Jørgen Wadum, then the chief curator of the Mauritshuis, stated that the signature had been added after the painting had been completed. Tests carried out by the Rijksmuseum show that the lead component of the lead white pigment extracted from the picture derives from a northern European source making it improbable that the picture was painted in southern Europe, as some critics had speculated. In addition, Christie’s claims that the lead white used to paint the Saint Praxedis is from the same “batch” used to painted the Diana and her Companions, a secure work by Vermeer.

However, since the results of these tests have not been published, for the moment it is not clear what meant by the term “batch.” Many pigments used by artists, including white lead, were already being produced on a large scale with the products being delivered to the retail dealers. There exists no evidence that that might indicate if Vermeer prepared his own paints or bought them through one or other commercial venues.

Unwrapping a Vermeer

June 28th, 2014

Tim’s Vermeer…from a painter’s point of view

June 21st, 2014

After I posted various reports about the documentary film Tim’s Vermeer, a few readers encouraged me to give a scholarly assessment of Jenison’s claim that Vermeer had used an optical device called a comparator mirror as an aid to his painting. Given my limited knowledge of the use of optics in seventeenth-century painting, I found it more appropriate to examine the issue from a technical viewpoint, since I am by profession a painter. The fact that I have studied Vermeer’s painting technique and attempted to emulate his manner for over 40 years, I hope, might give me a discreet edge over non-painters in evaluating if Jenison’s device is or is not compatible with what we know of Vermeer’s pictorial strategy and technical procedures.

Following some lively discussions with Mr. Jenison on the finer points of Vermeer’s painting procedures, I was able to meet him in Texas and experiment with the comparator mirror on the premises of a full-scale mockup of scene of Vermeer’s Music Lesson which Jenison had built in order to test his hypothesis by paintings his own Vermeer.

My first attempt to use the comparator mirror was frustrating. Not only was I unable to produce acceptable pencil outlines of a black and white photograph with which Jenison had used in his first experiments, I was utterly incapable of matching on paper any of the photograph’s tonal values. To use the comparator, at least as I was attempting to use it at the moment, one is constrained to work within an extremely small area of the drawing, along a thin edge where the image of the comparator mirror abuts on the drawing below and the two can be compared. Initially I found this procedure mentally and visually stressing, and at odds with my experience in conceiving and making paintings.

With a little more practice I was able to produce a few acceptable contours, even though they lacked any sort of artistic quality. However, seeing that I am not particularly skilled with a pencil, I though it best to test the device with paint and brush with which I have greater familiarity, even though on first consideration the oil painting technique seemed even more at odds with the mirror’s limitations than with dry drawing.

Surprisingly, I made rapid progress with the oil medium. Although with a certain fatigue, I learned to define first simple and then complex contours with a fine-tipped brush and began, even more surprisingly, to marvel at how it was possible to match with utmost precision both the chromatic and tonal values of my painting with those of the mirror in a completely objective manner.

Having made substantial progress in coordinating mind, eye, brush and mirror after a few painting sessions, I started afresh and began to depict a small portion of Jenison’s Vermeer mockup Vermeer room following what I have come to understand of Vermeer’s multi-step painting technique. Beginning with a schematic line drawing which served to fixed the most salient contours of the scene, I first underpainted the lights and darks with monochrome brown (raw umber plus black) and white paints without, however, systematically consulting the comparator mirror. I was, in fact, interested in testing how close I could get to the correct values on my own.

Once the underpainting was thoroughly dry, I began to apply the final colors over it using thick opaque paint in the lights and thinner paint in the shadows, according to seventeenth-century prescription. In order to render a given passage I first mixed, as all painters do, the proper paints on the palette attempting to match them as closely as possible to the color and tonal value combining what I perceived in nature with I had learned through practice. I then applied the mixture to the canvas and compared the values of my paint to those of the corresponding passage in the mirror. I sometimes discovered that both the color and tone of my mixture were very close to those seen in the mirror, but just as often I was struck by how poorly I had interpreted nature notwithstanding my decades of experience. In a back and forth manner I was able to register the erred values of my work with those of the mirror and return to painting. Once the proper values were firmly in place, I freehanded most of the modelling as I would have done without using an optical aid, taking care to verify the accuracy of my progress via the comparator mirror at regular intervals. The comparator mirror was also of help in verifying difficult contours and defining the smallest details that I had been unable to capture by freehand.

In any case, once I had registered the values of my painting with those of the mirror, the passage appeared much more true to life (painters simply say “right”).

Although the set of mirrors and lens (Jenison’s used a double convex lens of the camera obscura in coordination with a concave mirror and a comparator mirror) requires periodic adjustments in order to view the different areas of the scene, this does not unduly interrupt the painting process once one has acquired the necessary skill maneuver them.

Conclusion

Given Jenison’s complete lack of painting experience, he painted his Vermeer employing the comparator mirror, as would be expected, in the most literal of manners. He painstakingly matched what he saw in the mirror with paint applied directly, alla prima, forgoing any sort of layering techniques that we know Vermeer and his more accomplished colleagues sometimes employed. This aspect of Jenison’s approach provoked considerable criticism, including my own. It was reasoned that Vermeer could not have used the comparator mirror because Jenison’s essentially paint-by-numbers technique, and the consequential one-layer paint structure gotten by such an approach, is completely at odds with the multi-layered structure of Vermeer’s paintings.

According to my experience the comparator mirror neither dictates nor limits the painter to any fixed procedure or techniques, including those used by Vermeer. Certainly, it would interfere no more with the creative painting process than a systematic use of the camera obscura.

If it is used in a “painterly” manner, as any experienced painter would be naturally inclined to do, the comparator mirror opens the possibility to study color more precisely than can be done with the camera obscura alone and allows the artist to match with remarkable efficacy the illusive tonal values of nature, which in effect are crucial to Vermeer’s unique brand of realism. Furthermore, I discovered that the erred tonal values of my monochrome underpainting did not compromise the rendering of the proper tones and colors of the final paint layers. The aim of seventeenth-century underpainting, as I understand it, was not to establish the precise tonal values of the final work from the very beginning, but rather to approximate the distribution of darks and lights thereby creating a sort of compositional blueprint which provided a solid base on to which the successive layers of colored paint could be applied in a more efficient manner. Although I used the glazing technique in only one passage (red madder over an underpainting of vermillion), it was evident that with some practice it would be relatively easy for any practiced painter to anticipate the tonal and chromatic values of the colored underpainting so they might eventually match those made visible in the mirror once the passage had been glazed with the final color.

The use of such a simple device as the comparator mirror in tandem with the camera obscura lens, in my opinion, is technically compatible with Vermeer’s known painting techniques (to be distinguished from his “pointillist” mannerism), and it is in line with what Lawrence Gowing appropriately called the artist’s “optical way” as well as the artist’s search for absolute tonal authenticity.

Mauritshuis reopens on June 27, 2014

June 17th, 2014

View of Delft, Johannes Vermeer

Mauritshuis Opening on 27 June 2014

The Mauritshuis will open its doors on Friday 27 June 2014 after a two-year renovation.

The world famous painting collection, including three paintings by Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The View of Delft and Diana and her Companions, will once again be displayed in the fully renovated and expanded Mauritshuis. After a celebratory opening, the museum will be open to the public for visit free of charge until midnight. The renovated Mauritshuis doubles its surface with an underground expansion into a building on the other side of the street. Still, little about the character of the museum will change. The appearance and unique homely atmosphere are preserved, thanks to the design of Hans van Heeswijk architects. The most obvious change is the relocation of the main entrance to the forecourt. Visitors will descend via the stairs or lift to a light foyer, connecting ‘old’ and ‘new’ underground. The new part, the Royal Dutch Shell Wing, will house the exhibition space, the brasserie and the museum shop. Furthermore, it will accommodate the educational Art Workshop, a library, and event rooms.

The museum has also rennovated its website and has added new high-resolution image is their Vermeer’s paintings which can be veiwed with a zoom feature or downloaded to one’s hard disk. The downloadable images are lower resolution than the zoom versions.

zoom features:
Girl with a Pearl Earring
View of Delft
Diana and her Compantions

downloads
:
Girl with a Pearl Earring
View of Delft
Diana and her Compantions

Mauritshuis
Korte Vijverberg 8
2513 AB The Hague
P.O. Box 536
2501 CM The Hague