Posts Tagged ‘Steve Wynn’

Is Vermeer overrated? Part 1

April 29th, 2013
Looking at Vermeer's Lacemkaer and Astronomer

See part 2 and part 3.

Vermeer’s popularity has risen above fame and become mystique. An estimated 330,000 viewers braved freezing snow and 24-hour queues to catch a glimpse of 21 Vermeer paintings at the Washington National Gallery of Art. The miniscule Young Woman Seated at a Virginal (hardly a masterpiece by anyone’s estimate), was auctioned in 2005 for $30,000,000: buyer, Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas billionaire casino mogul known for his dabblings in the high end of art collecting (Wynn is remembered by art market elites for having accidentally punctured his $48,000,000 Picasso, Le Rêve, with an elbow). Vermeer devotees even get silly. A foremost art scholar and powerful dealer in Dutch art, whose life-long dream has been to uncover one of Vermeer’s lost cityscapes, drives his SUV around NYC sporting a customized “VERMEER” license plate.

While Vermeermania is a fact, not everyone is in love with the idea of being in love with this artist. His “hitherto dominant standing as one of the two premier Dutch painters, Rembrandt for drama and Vermeer for transcendence,”1 no longer goes publicly unchallenged. Lamenting the twentieth-century censure of Gabriel Metsu from the first-tier of Dutch painting masters, one critic wrote unapologetically, “the winner-takes-all syndrome operates as much in the arts as it does in business and politics, and no artist has benefited more than Johannes Vermeer” and “if you spend enough time with Metsu’s work, Vermeer’s accomplishment seems a little narrow, and the mechanics of art-world popularity even more arbitrary.”2 After a prolonged visit to eye-opening Gerrit ter Borch exhibition in Washington, another critic claimed, “Ter Borch is a greater, more important artist than Johannes Vermeer” and that the latter’s “eccentricities and weaknesses,” rather than intrinsic artistic worth, were the primary ingredients for the recipe that made him “the perfect” painter for the modern age.”3 Even the famous twentieth-century English painter Francis Bacon had once complained, “Everybody likes Vermeer, except me. He doesn’t mean anything, he has no significance.” While the most commonly attributes of his art— restraint, equilibrium, and a certain measure of mystery are not discounted, some serious art historians hold that the best works by Pieter de Hooch can stand comfortably next to the canvases of Vermeer, a high-treason proposition for any Vermeer devotee.

It may be that Vermeer’s super-star status has not only monopolized public interest and obscured other meritorious Dutch painters, but has drained already dwindling funds for alternative research and exhibitions for less glamorous artists. On the other hand, a temporary exhibition with a mediocre Vermeer and a fold-out brochure continues to guarantee the cash-strapped cultural institutions a dramatic increase in ticket sales. If three or four paintings, or a particularly likable work by Vermeer, can be leveraged for a temporary exhibition (with or without a worthwhile thematic agenda) the museum may have a major cultural event on its hands with winding queues, photo ops, banging museum shop cash registers and an increase of institutional prestige. Until Vermeer stops paying off, very few have a vested interest in tampering with his mystique.

1. Kennicott, Philip. “Gabriel Metsu at the National Gallery, out-Vermeering Vermeer.Washingtom Post. April 8, 2011.
2. Kennicott, Philip. 2011.
3. Gopnik, Blake, “Exquisiteness In Plain View.” Washington Post. November 7, 2004.

The MET shows a 6th Vermeer

January 9th, 2009

After its zigzag performance, the Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, reattributed in recent times to Vermeer, has bobbed up again in an unexpected place, next to the Woman with a Water Pitcher at the MET.

With the help of Lee Rosenbaum’s timely reporting on CultureGRll (artsJournal) and some detective work of my own, let’s take a  look at the painting’s history.

  • The Young Woman Seated at a Virginal is presumabley painted by Vermeer c. 1670.
  • The picture is documented for the first time in 1904, when it was published in the preliminary catalogue by Dr. Wilhelm Bode of the collection of Alfred Beit, a South African-born diamond magnate who rivaled the great early 20th-century art acquisitions of Americans such as Frick and Mellon.
  • Before and during the World War II, it was unanimously recognized by scholars, including Wilhelm Bode, Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, A.B. de Vries, Eduard Plietzsch and Ludwig Goldscheider.
  • Following the dramatic Van Meegeren affair of Vermeer forgeries, De Vries, the Director of the Rijksmuseum, the leadingVermeer scholar, expressed doubts about the authenticity of the picture published in 1948. De Vries changed his mind, in favor of the painting, and wrote several letters saying that if his book were to go into a third edition he would rehabilitate the picture.
  • When Beit died, the picture passed to his brother, Otto Beit, and then the latter’s son, Sir Alfred Beit, who eventually, in 1960, placed the picture on consignment with a London dealer.
  • Baron Frédéric Rolin of Brussels, an occasional collector of Old Masters and dealer in tribal art, sees and falls in love with it. Aware of the doubtful attribution to Vermeer, he acquired it in exchange four works from his collection, paintings by Klee, Signac, Bonnard and Riopelle.
  • Lawrence Gowing (1970) and Christopher Wright (1976) continued to accept it, but others dismissed it.
  • In 1993, Sotheby’s was approached by Baron Rolin, with a request to undertake new research on the painting.
  • A complete scientific study was begun in 1995 by Libby Sheldon of University College London, in collaboration with her colleague Catherine Hassall, and in 1997 Nicola Costaras of the Victoria and Albert Museum joined this team.. The investigation demonstrated that the picture was unquestionably 17th-century and that also that its technical composition was entirely consistent with Vermeer’s known working methods. In particular, the composition of the ground layers was found to be entirely comparable with other works by the artist, and the pigments used were also appropriate.
  • Rolin dies in 2002, and the painting is offered for sale by his heirs.
  • Sotheby’s auctions the painting to an unknown bidder for $30 million.
  • The painting is shown briefly at the Philadelphia Museum. The buyer finally turns out to be the number one suspect, Steve Wynn the Las Vegas casino mogul and art collector.
  • The painting disappears in Wynn’s main office.
  • It is exhibited in Tokyo along with other 6 other Vermeer’s from August 2 – December 14, 2008.
  • Norm Clarke of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the painting was sold by Wynn to an unknown buyer for $30 million.
  • The painting raises its head for the last time on Dec. 29 in Gallery 14A of the European paintings galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, It is labeled as from a “Private Collection.” It will be on view until June 1.

The man who got tired of his Vermeer

October 29th, 2008

While no one expected Las Vegas resort developer Steve Wynn to hold his Vermeer forever, he seems to have become disenchanted with the thought of being the only private holder of a genuine painting by Johannes Vermeer after only four years. The Las Vegas Review-Journal has it that Wynn recently sold the Young Woman Seated at the Virginals painting purchased four years ago for the sum of $30 million. Neither the new selling price nor the identity of the buyer is known.

After languishing in limbo for years, a team of leading specialists proposed it as a secure addition to Vermeer’s limited oeuvre after 10 years of extensive research. Wynn snapped it up at Sothebey’s and soon after displayed it in the now defunct Wynn Las Vegas Gallery. It then adorned his personal office. Recently it resurfaced at the Vermeer and the Delft Style exhibition in Tokyo on view until December 14, 2008.

Since its rehabilitation as an authentic Vermeer, almost no one has come forward publicly to cast doubts on the work’s authenticity even though the general consensus seems to comment negatively on its artistic merit. See my take.