Posts Tagged ‘Art of Painting’

Is Vermeer Overrated? Part 4

May 27th, 2013
The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer

Vermeer’s Milkmaid alone brought 329,446
to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2008.

Part 123.

Is Rubens greater than Vermeer? Can we honestly say that the Girl with the Pearl Earring merits the status of “the Mona Lisa of the North”? Impossible questions to answer? Complicated, definitely. After all, today no one even agrees on what art is in the first place. But before attempting the impossible, I would like to address each of the five reasons for which the historian Rabb claims Rubens’ art is superior to Vermeer’s because, unless you are averse art historical fencing, they are interesting.

Claim no. 1. Rubens had a dominant role in the development of the art of his time—Vermeer did not.

It is true; Vermeer had virtually no impact on his contemporaries. Surviving paintings which show signs of his manner are fewer than twenty and most of them were produced by moderately-talented Dutch painters known only to well-informed art historians (e.g. Jacobus Vrel and Cornelis de Man). Michael van Musscher—an enterprising fellow who was able to recycle just about any motif he set his eyes on—did a relaxed remake of Vermeer’s solemn Art of Painting, hardly an event which drives forward the course of art. Gabriel Metsu, equally eclectic and remunerated as Van Musscher but more gifted, paid homage to Vermeer by scattering a few of the latter’s trademark pointillés upon a pair of slippers of an elegant seamstresses’ skirt in his Woman Reading a Letter with her Maid. A few of Metsu’s interiors do indeed betray a compositional rigor unusual for this artist but characteristic of the work of his Delft colleague although problems of dating obfuscate who was really looking at who. Without fear of rebuttal, it is fair to say that Vermeer’s influence did not extend far beyond the picturesque city bastions of his hometown Delft. On the other hand, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian and Rubens, indisputable “greats” by anyone’s standards, can be credited not only with shaping the course of European art, but to some degree of Western thinking as well.

Whether Vermeer’s ambitions were lowly or lofty, almost everything in his life and art is scaled down in respects to Europe’s giants: the dimensions of his pictures, the hierarchy of his subject matter and the social status of his clientele pale in comparison. Even his personal ambitions were anything but spectacular.

Michelangelo was commissioned to fresco 12,000 square feet of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican by Pope Julius II. He designed and oversaw the construction of the dome of the basilica of St Peters, the spiritual and geographical heart of the Roman Catholicism.

Titian received honors in every city he set foot. In Venice has was adored, and he virtually expunged the city of rivals enjoying the patronage of enlightened Italian courts where he painted the portraits of Doges, princes and cardinals. A biographer told the story that during a studio visit Emperor Charles V picked up a brush for the artist to which Titian responded, “Sire, I am not worthy of such a servant.” The Emperor replied, “Titian is worthy to be served by Caesar.”

Velasquez aspired to become a knight of Santiago, a prestigious Spanish military orders reserved for noblemen. At the age of 24, he became the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV of the Spanish empire, which had reached its seventeenth-century territorial zenith which spanned 12.2 million square kilometers. Velázquez was entrusted with painting royal portraits and with decorating of the Escorial. In 1660, he was charged to organize one of Europe’s greatest ceremonies, the wedding of the Infanta Maria Theresa to Louis XIV of France.

Closer to home, the career accomplishments of Van Mieris, Ter Borch and Dou, the Netherlands’s top tier artists, easily outstripped those of Vermeer. Dou once received the astronomical sum of 4,000 guilders (good to buy three or four average Dutch houses) from the States of Holland for a painting entitled The Young Mother while Van Mieris was paid 2,500 by Cosimo III of the Medici family for a Family Concert. Ter Borch was so successful that he could afford the luxury of settling down in Deventer, away from the bustling art market in Amsterdam, and become a gemeensman (city counselor) in 1666. All three received invitations to European courts.

On the other hand, out hero Vermeer seems to have been content to become a  schutter in the militia of his tiny Delft (population 20,000) which counted amongst them “the most suitable, most peaceful and best qualified burgers or children of burgers.” He may have been acquainted with Constantijn Huygens, loosely described as Holland’s Renaissance man, but his only proven tie with the upper crust of Dutch society was that with his patron Pieter van Ruijven, a Delft burger who paid a fortune for an aristocratic title but would have been forgotten to history had he not been linked to Vermeer. One painting by Vermeer was estimated by its owner, a prosperous Delft baker, to be worth 600 guilders but it is not know if this sum represented a real commercial value or an attempt to enhance the baker’s social status and the value of the artist’s work in the eyes of the diffident Frenchmen who had visited Delft in order to see the artist’s work. Having escaped from his father’s inn and installed himself in the Papist corner, shielded by his mother-in-law’s patrician standing and money, may have been a significant rise in social status for Vermeer who had been born to a family of a tradesman.

Curiously, although Vermeer’s fame and monetary value soared in the 20th century, his painting, which has been incessantly associated with the values of modernism, continued to inspire very few colleagues (except for forgers). Perhaps, his only legacy in “modern” times (if you can call it a legacy—I wouldn’t) is the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi.


Vermeer in Tokyo tops 2012 art exhibition attendance

March 28th, 2013

Attendance survey 2012: Tour de force show puts Tokyo on top
by Javier Pes and Emily Sharpe
published online: The Art Newspaper , 28 March 2013


Evidently, Old Masters do not grow old.

Not surprisingly, the Tokyo leg of the Masterpieces from the Mauritshuis exhibit—with Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring as the absolute star—racked up 758,26 visitors (about 10,573 a day) and placed first in 2012 attendance for art exhibitions. The exhibitions was staged at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum which was newly reopened after refurbishment.

That Vermeer is somewhat of a mania in Japan, however, is not news.

On the other hand, Modern art dominated the bill in New York and Paris. David Hockney’s large-scale works on canvas attracted a very healthy 7,512 visitors a day.

To see the exhibition rankings, download the pdf.

New high-resolution image of Vermeer’s recently restored Woman in Blue Reading a Letter

October 19th, 2011

CLICK HERE  to access high resolution image

The Rijksmuseum has updated their hi-res image of the Woman in Blue Reading a Letter after its recent restoration. At first sight it looks a bit disjointed as pictures always do after restoration. The whole much cooler in hue now the long winding scarf-like piece of cloth on the table, once fairly muddled, can be made out a bit better recalling a similar scarf-like object that drapes down in the Art of Painting. The figure has gained much force and now stands out of the picture more than it did before the dark, yellow varnish was removed. The painting now appears to have greater spatial resonance and sense of volume.

Some color can be made out in the map as well as a few topographical features which had been overpainted. A row of discreet brass buttons with tiny highlights now run along the side of the foreground chair which had been completely obscured by retouches.

Heirs’ claim for Hitler’s Vermeer painting is rejected by Austrian panel.

March 30th, 2011

An Austrian panel recently rejected a claim for a Vermeer painting by the heirs of a man who sold it to Adolf  Hitler, saying there was no evidence the sale was forced or that the seller was persecuted. Austria’s art restitution panel threw out the argument by the heirs of Jaromir Czernin that Hitler’s acquisition amounted to a “sale under duress” and should be nullified. The panel instead recommended that Austria keeps the painting. “There is no reason to assume that the sale of  The Art of Painting by Jaromir Czernin to Adolf Hitler was an invalid transaction,” the panel said in a statement on its website.

Read Randol Schoenberg’s arguments in favor of the restitution of Vermeer’s Art of Painting to Helga Conrad, the step-daughter of Jaromir Czernin-Morzin.

March 17th, 2011


Will the Vienna Kunthistorisches lose its Vermeer?

March 16th, 2011

Friday March 18, the Austrian art restitution advisory committee will meet to discuss the ownership of the most important work of art still disputed in the aftermath of WWII, Vermeer’s Art of Painting. The case is not closed in favor of the Viennese art institution. Randol Schoenberg, the heavy-weight Los Angeles attorney who represents Helga Conrad, the step-daughter of Jaromir Czernin-Morzin  who in turn sold the work to Hitler, has litigated several prominent Nazi-looted art cases., including Republic of Austria vs. Altmann.  Schoenberg won the return of five paintings by Gustav Klimt valued at over $300 million.

Read an article by Randol Schoenberg here.

The painting’s afterlife in cluding the Czernin case.

in a nutshell (source: Wikipedia):

After the Nazi invasion of Austria, top Nazi officials including Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring attempted to acquire the painting. It was finally acquired from its then owner, Count Jaromir Czernin by Adolf Hitler for his personal collection at a price of 1.65 million Reichsmark through his agent, Hans Posse on November 20, 1940.[7] The painting was rescued from a salt mine at the end of World War II in 1945, where it was preserved from Allied bombing raids, with other works of art.

The Americans presented the painting to the Austrian Government in 1946, since the Czernin family were deemed to have sold it voluntarily, without undue force from Hitler. It is now the property of the State of Austria.

In August 2009 a request was submitted by the heirs of the Czernin family to Austria’s culture ministry for the return of the painting. A previous request was submitted in 1960s however it was  “rejected on the grounds that the sale had been voluntary and the price had been adequate.” A 1998 restitution law which pertains to public institutions has bolstered the family’s legal position.

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.

The current state of the Art of Painting

January 5th, 2010

Following the claims (September 2008)  of the heirs of Jaromir Czernin concerning the ownership of  The Art of Painting by Johannes Vermeer, the Kunsthistorische Museum of Vienna has launched a web page to inform those interested in the current state of discussion. Here is the link:


Get background information at the NGA study, The Art of Painting: The Painting’s Afterlife

Get a review of current events at Restitution And Remorse by Natascha Eichinger on the Vienna Review.

The Vienna Art of Painting exhibition detail

November 23rd, 2009

Regarding the upcoming Art of Painting special exhibition in Vienna (25 January – 25 April 2010), I have been kindly informed that the organisers have created a 1:1  3D reconstruction of Vermeer’s masterpiece following the drawings of the London architect and Vermeer/camera obscura expert, Philip Steadman.  A large camera obscura was subsequently employed to obtain  images. Some photos of the camera obscura images  will be included in the exhibition.

Most any Vermeer enthusiast will remember Steadman’s carefully-researched and much-discussed book (Vermeer’s Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces) on Vermeer’s use of the camera obscura (a sort of 17th-century precursor of the modern photographic camera). The dust still has not completely settled  dividing Vermeer notables into two camps. Since The Art of Painting is said by many to present some of the peculiar visual qualities which are characteristic of the image produced by the camera obscura, this part of the exhibition may be useful to those who those who seek visual evidence in regards to the issue.

I have always enjoyed, but more importantly,  learned, something more from small-scale exhibitions with a clear focus more than blockbuster overviews which tend to overwhelm someone like myself who can at best absorb one painting at at time (perhaps a professional deformation stemming from the habit of painting only one painting at a time) .  See,  for example,  the excellent  Milkmaid exhibit currently at the MET.

The Art of Painting exhibit seems to be shaping  up nicely. All I need now is some some cash that falls off a tree for a round-trip ticket and lodging.

Special Vienna exhibition: The Art of Painting

November 12th, 2009

Vermeer : The Art of Painting
25 January – 25 April 2010
Kunsthistorisches Museum
Maria Theresien-Platz, Vienna


The Art of Painting has a unique place in Vermeer’s oeuvre. Although it was very likely not executed as a commission, it never left the artist’s studio. Even after Vermeer’s death, which left his family with enormous financial problems, his widow Catharina tried to prevent a sale of this precious painting. Most likely, it was made as a showcase piece to be presented to connoisseurs and potential customers. The exhibition investigates a number of facets of this most complex of Vermeer’s compositions.

Besides extensive technological studies regarding the work’s state of conservation,  several central subjects are faced including the complex iconography  supported by period documentation. Some of the props in the picture will be on display; a period chandelier, tapestry, wallmap as well as a precise reconstruction of a slashed doublet worn by the painter.

Other questions are investigated as well. Does the painting represent Vermeer’s real studio? What does the painting reveal about Vermeer’s working methods? Which pigments did painter utilized? How was the composition developed? Did the painter make use of optical devices?

Numerous loans from European and American museums and private collections and historical documents from Dutch archives provide a springboard for discovering Vermeer’s masterpiece.

In addition the Kunsthistorisches Museum displays paintings, sculptures and details of films by contemporary artists (George Deem, Maria Lassnig, Peter Greenaway etc.) whose creation were inspired by Vermeer’s Art of Painting.