Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Vermeer at the Frick

OK, I'm abandoning my gifts posts for now because there are just too many other wonderful things to write about (but stay tuned for more of them this December!)

I feel incredibly grateful and happy that I was able to catch the exhibit 'Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis' at The Frick Collection the day before it closed two weekends ago. Grateful because the very next day I developed a vision problem in my right eye which would have prevented me from really seeing the exquisite paintings.  And happy because, well, I was truly so happy when I was there -- I love being at the Frick under any circumstances -- and I was reminded that I have not been doing a very good job of late at living my life, doing the things I really want to do.

When I had reached the final stage of the indoor line, which was on the right side of the entrance way to the exhibit, a man in front of me leaned all the way over and peered into the Oval Room.  He then turned to the woman who was with him and said, "There she is!"  I thought that was such a nice way to refer to 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' for of course "she" has become so personal to many of us since the publication of Tracy Chevalier's book in 1999.  The painting itself has been cleaned by art conservators since it was last in New York almost thirty years ago, and the girl depicted in the work has become "one of the most famous faces in Western art" according to Holland Cotter of The New York Times

But I loved all the other fifteen paintings on loan from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague as well, especially 'Still Life with Five Apricots' by Adriaen Coorte; 'View of Haarlem With Bleaching Grounds' by Jacob van Ruisdael; 'As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young' by Jan Steen; and 'Goldfinch' by Carel Fabritius (I haven't yet read Donna Tartt's novel of the same yet but I cannot wait to begin it).

The bookstore at the Frick naturally stocks some exceptional volumes on Dutch painting in general and on Vermeer in particular.  Books by noted author Arthur K. Wheelock (who is also Curator of Northern European Art at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.), including The Essential Johannes Vermeer (Abrams), are essential for those who want authoritative volumes.  But I am also very enthusiastic about a paperback series by Taschen, which includes an edition on Vermeer: The Complete Paintings by Norbert Schneider (pictured above).  In 91 pages Schneider reveals an awful lot about the town of Delft, Vermeer's life, and his painting career and features a plethora of color and black-and-white reproductions.  I am especially keen on the final chapter, 'The Rediscovery of Vermeer,' in which Schneider tells us that only since the middle of the 19th century has Vermeer's art enjoyed an enthusiastic reception.  The French socialist politician and journalist Théophile Burger-Thoré (1806-1869) is responsible for ushering in a new appreciation of Vermeer's art -- while he was traveling around England, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland, immersed in Dutch 17th century painting, he believed that these works corresponded with the art of the Barbizon school and Gustave Courbet.  "It is no coincidence that this dawning interest in Vermeer went hand in hand with the rise of Impressionism, whose agenda was the rejection of a dark-toned, academic style of painting in favour of brightly-lit plein-air painting using a full, unmixed palette."  Camille Pissarro, in a letter he wrote to his son Lucien in November of 1882, noted, "How shall I describe these portraits by Rembrandt and Hals, and this view of Delft by Vermeer, these masterpieces which come so close to Impressionism?"          

I stood outside on line for an hour and a half on an exceptionally cold day with snow flurries and rain before I got inside the museum, so I was committed to this show; but I admit I was unprepared for how much I loved this exhibit.  Happily for the Frick and for fans of Dutch painting, over 220,000 people saw the exhibition, and the Frick now has many new members. Though the show has closed, anyone who may have missed it (or just wants to connect with other fans) can easily do so by visiting the Essential Vermeer website. This truly fantastic and thorough site is maintained by just the kind of quirky, passionate person I love, Jonathan Janson, an American painter who lives in Rome.  There is so much here it's hard to believe: a complete Vermeer catalogue, prints and posters, a Dutch glossary, maps, museums, interviews, even free Vermeer and Delft wallpapers.  Janson launched the site in 2001 and he spends about five hours a day keeping it up.  It's truly a labor of love and one of the most outstanding websites I've ever seen, on any subject.  Makes me want to quit this blog.  But I won't: he has inspired me to make it better. 



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