Posts Tagged ‘Lady Standing at a Virginal’

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.

Vermeer and Technique: a National Gallery web study

September 1st, 2013

Click here to discover the techniques and materials behind four of Vermeer’s music-themed paintings on display in the exhibition Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure.

Illuminating and richly illustrated. All articles are authored by the National Gallery’s Helen Howard, Scientific Officer – Microscopist; David Peggie, Scientific Officer – Organic Analyst; and Rachel Billinge, Research Associate in the Conservation department.

Topics include:

Support and ground
Infrared examination
Vermeer’s palette
Binding medium
Paint application
Secrets of the studio
Altered appearance of ultramarine
Fading of yellow and red lake pigments
Drying and paint defects
Formation of lead and zinc soaps

from the National Gallery website:
The extended loan of Vermeer’s The Guitar Player from Kenwood House enabled National Gallery researchers to analyse the painting’s materials and closely study the techniques used. The findings were compared with other late paintings by Vermeer in the National Gallery (A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal and A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal), and a slightly earlier work (The Music Lesson) kindly lent by the Royal Collection for the National Gallery’s 2013 summer exhibition Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure.


New National Gallery website re-make

June 28th, 2009

After years of stagnation, the London National Gallery has updated its internet presence.

For Vermeer enthusiasts, the re-do offers an improved zoom feature of both the Lady Seated at the Virginals and the Lady Standing at the Virginals, two late works which can be easily overlooked by newcomers.

Other than the restrained graphic re-make, someone at the National Gallery put his hand on his heart and eliminated the hideous watermarks which once “graced” these previous zoom features. If you are partial to detail (like myself) or a painter (like myself), these images provide both food for the eye and mind.

Although politics evidently constrain the gallery staff to aim their sites on the “lower” tier of museum goers (“Plan your visit here,” “Take part as a family,” “Subscribe to out Podcast link” links strategically infest the site), the textual information sorely disappoints. Do not the two ladies merit more than five bland paragraphs? Frankly, my 10-year web experience has taught me to never underestimate the inquisitiveness or intellect of the those who wish to warm up to the masterpieces for the first time. Both of these unobtrusive Vermeers have some pretty compelling stories to tell if one willing to scratch under the surface a bit.

Vermeer echo

June 20th, 2009

Following even Vermeer matters little know to the general public, Pieter Groenewegen’s Mountain Landscape with Travelers has been temporarily loaned by the Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder Gallery (Amsterdam) to the Prinsenhof-Museum, Delft.

Although you may not associate Groenewegen’s rather conventional landscapes with the sublime masterpieces of Vermeer, Vermeer evidently found Groenewegen’s Mountain Landscape with Travelers sufficiently intriguing to incorporate not once, but twice in his Lady Standing at the Virginals. To be fair, the word intriguing should be reserved to Vermeer’s pictorial sleigh of hand rather than to landscape itself. Here is the story in a pill.

Some years ago, Dr Gregor J. M. Weber (Head of the Department of Fine Arts in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) noted that the landscapes which appear on the lid of the virginal and in the gilt frame on the background wall of A Lady Standing at the Virginals showed remarkable similarities. Other than the overall composition, the succession light and dark layers of rocks and trees, the roofs of the houses and the waterfalls of two landscapes were virtually identical. Weber concluded that they were both based on the same painting.

Although many Dutch landscape painters composed their works along these lines, Weber noted a much greater similarity with the work of Pieter Groenewegen from Delft and concluded that the work must have been by him. By coincidence, Weber saw a photograph of Groenewege’s Mountain Landscape with Traveler and informed the two Amsterdam art dealers, John and Willem Jan Hoogstader, of his finding who were amazed when they discovered they were the owners of the very picture in question.

Using computer montage, Weber further analyzed the two depictions in Vermeer’s painting in reference to the real Groenewegen. And although it was evident that Vermeer had used some poetic license in adapting Groenewegen’s landscape to his expressive exigencies, the coincidences were so compelling that the swept away any reasonable doubt of Weber’s original conjecture.

What remains to be understood is the scope of Vermeer’s pictorial trickery. Personally, I have a hunch that the two landscapes were meant to deliberately “echo” each other in order to create a visual analogy to the musical theme which is at the heart of Vermeer’s composition. Visual “echos,” some obvious and some more subtle, seem to be a standard tool in Vermeer’s pictorial repertoire. One example is the curling locks of the youthful Guitar Player which closely well echo the dangling foliage of the landscape behind her. Another is the snow-white cap of the maid and the billowing clouds of the landscape behind her in the Love Letter.

If you would like to dig further into the matter, the Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder has published Weber’s findings with copious diagrams and images in the Hoosteder Journal No 7, Sept, 2000. If you contact them they may send you a free copy. Some information, without images, can be found at <>.