Posts Tagged ‘Girl with a Red Hat’

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).


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.

Symposium: Could four Vermeer paintings have been done by the artist’s daughter?

May 2nd, 2013

In his book Vermeer’s Family Secrets (Routledge in 2009), Cooper Union art history professor Benjamin Binstock proposed that four paintings by Vermeer, including the Girl with a Red Hat,  might actually have been painted by his daughter, Maria, who he further identified as the model for the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring. Thus far, however, Binstock’s thesis has been met with silence in the art historical press—itself a fascinating response.  But what if we were to take Binstock’s claims seriously, or at least allow them a fair hearing? How might we go about doing so? Beyond that, what if we in turn were to think about how such theories make their way through the art historical vetting process? How generally does scholarship evaluate such claims, and in turn how ought we evaluate how it does so? And if Binstock were proven right?

An all-day symposium will address Binstock’s unorthodox theory and related questions will be held at the NYU Cantor Film Center, Saturday May 18, 2013 (11:00 a.m. – 6: p.m.). The symposium will attended by Benjamin Binstock, Anthony Grafton, Linda Nochlin, Chuck Close (painter), James Elkins (art historian), Vincent Desiderio, Rachael Cohen and Ulrich Baer.

Entrance is open to the public and free. For further details click here or download the PDF, which features a brief account of Binstock’s theory.

Vermeer in Italy: the numbers

April 1st, 2013

Having lived and worked in Italy for decades, I was pretty sure that the Vermeer: Il secolo d’oro dell’arte olandese would not likely to set a raging fire among art goers.

The exhibit, with 8 Vermeers (6 authentic by my count), brought in 307.971 visitors. Mind you, that’s not a number to be to be scoffed at, but the show placed fourth in 2012 Italian art exhibitions even though it was by far the largest Vermeer exhibit ever to be held on the peninsula, and it was much publicized to boot.


The 2012 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. But Japan, everybody knows, is definitely Vermeer territory and Italians are not lacking in great painters of their own.

As usual , panic artists , 14,000 strong, crowded the final day of the show. On packed days, a pocket-sized painting like to Girl with a Red Hat was for all practical purpose invisible. For my take why Italians don’t quite get this strange artist, scroll down and see post below.

If you are a numbers person, click here to access a sortable table of ALL the Vermeer exhibitions ever held. You won’t find all this information on one page anywhere else.

Coincidences ?

March 6th, 2013

While it may be true that paintings are born more from painting than from one-to-one observation of nature, I wonder how frequently art historical connections don’t take into account that coincidences are inevitable.

For example, the mysterious shadow cast by the outlandish hats of Vermeer’s Girl with a Red Hat or Girl with a Flute may owe nothing to Rembrandt or followers. Big hats actually do cast shadows when light originates, as in the vast majority of natural circumstances, from above. See Savoldo’s Flute Player painted 150 years before Vermeer’s tronies.

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.