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Vermeer Rijksmuseum preview: Largest ever collection of Vermeer paintings unveiled in blockbuster show



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Written by Nick Glass, CNNAmsterdam

Contributors Natasha Maguder, CNN

“Probably the most mysterious and beloved artist of all time.” With out a trace of apology, that is how the final director of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, Taco Dibbits, describes Vermeer. And it is onerous to disagree. After all, now we have different extra recognizable names — Leonardo, Rembrandt, Picasso, Van Gogh — however has another nice artist been so intensely studied and revisited in recent times because the Dutchman Johannes Vermeer of Delft?

Dibbits has pulled off the artwork world’s coup of the 12 months. And he is aware of it. For the following 4 months, the Rijksmuseum is enjoying host to the most important Vermeer exhibition of this, or another, lifetime.

Students disagree about precisely what number of work Vermeer left behind. The Rijksmuseum now resolutely places the quantity at 37, the Nationwide Gallery in Washington at 34. Whichever it’s, having 28 of them in a single place is unprecedented. Advance ticket gross sales for the blockbuster exhibition, which opens Friday, have already exceeded 200,000.

“It’s totally thrilling,” Dibbits says. “I’ve had this dream of getting all of the work collectively. Having 28 right here is one thing we by no means thought doable.”

"Girl with a Pearl Earring," by Johannes Vermeer.

“Woman with a Pearl Earring,” by Johannes Vermeer. Credit score: Margareta Svensson

Even this quantity is topic to debate. The Nationwide Gallery recently decided that “Woman with a Flute” is not by the grasp himself however by an unnamed follower. Nonetheless, the Rijksmuseum has fortunately borrowed the portray for its present, together with three different Vermeers from the Nationwide, and it firmly disagrees in regards to the re-attribution. The Rijksmuseum’s head of work and sculpture, Pieter Roelofs, made mild of the matter, wryly telling a Dutch newspaper that when “Woman with a Flute” flew throughout the Atlantic it merely grew to become a Vermeer once more.

We’re used to seeing Vermeers completely reproduced in books, posters and postcards. In actual life, nonetheless, “Woman with a Flute” is a surprisingly small image. It hangs along with the essential and transitional portray within the artist’s evolution, “Woman with a Purple Hat,” on a chosen Rijksmuseum wall — every portray simply 9 inches by 7 inches.

Museum workers install "Girl with a Red Hat" at the Rijksmuseum.

Museum employees set up “Woman with a Purple Hat” on the Rijksmuseum. Credit score: Courtesy Kelly Schenk/Rijksmuseum

The re-attribution is a part of a captivating and exhaustive Vermeer analysis venture involving not solely the Rijksmuseum and Nationwide Gallery, but in addition the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork in New York. The strategies concerned are extraordinary: a sort of non-invasive archaeology, with methods first pioneered by NASA to map minerals on Mars and the Moon. Museum scientists and conservators have been delving beneath Vermeer’s meticulously painted surfaces to look at his underpainting and, in a number of circumstances, beneath that to his preliminary sketches. The outcomes have astounded all of them.

‘It is as if you’re wanting over his shoulder’

Till now, we have recognized Vermeer as a methodical and elegant artist, a magical painter of sunshine and luminous moments of Seventeenth-century Dutch middle-class life. He captures arresting home scenes: ladies studying or writing letters, a housemaid pouring milk, a lady enjoying a lute, a younger woman sporting a pearl earring.

“Vermeer depicts these moments of intense happiness the place time stands nonetheless,” Dibbits enthuses. “All the pieces comes collectively. There may be this whole tranquility, this intimacy.”

The traditional knowledge is that Vermeer took his time — maybe not more than two or three footage a 12 months, throughout 20 years of portray. However the brand new analysis additionally means that he might be impulsive, spontaneous and impatient, attacking the canvas rapidly with broad brushstrokes in sketches and underpaint.

Rijksmuseum conservator Ige Verslype is thrilled. “We actually see the primary inventive steps of Vermeer,” she says. “We will actually observe him in his manner of portray. It is as if you’re wanting over his shoulder and seeing what he is doing.”

Take “Girl in Blue studying a Letter,” which Verslype restored some 10 years in the past. This time round, it has been within the lab — on and off — for 3 weeks. Once more, there have been revelations.

"Woman in Blue Reading a Letter," by Johannes Vermeer.

“Girl in Blue Studying a Letter,” by Johannes Vermeer. Credit score: Courtesy Rijksmuseum

“It has a really refined tonality,” Verslype mentioned of the work, which was painted within the 1660s. “And that is due to the way in which he constructed it up with a greenish and brownish first layer, after which on high he used, in each layer, the blue pigment ultramarine — not solely within the blue chair, the blue tablecloth, but in addition within the partitions, within the shadows, even in her face and arms.”

Ultramarine, made out of lapis lazuli, was the period’s most costly pigment used. Vermeer’s common use of it means that his portray profession, whereas quick, should have been comparatively profitable. But, after his dying, he was rapidly forgotten. His work was rediscovered by a French artwork critic nearly two centuries later.

Now, the public sale report for a Vermeer stands at $30 million, the sum fetched by “A Younger Girl Seated on the Virginals” at Sotheby’s in 2004. Most Vermeer lovers agree is that it was an excellent however not an excellent work. It was acquired by the Las Vegas on line casino mogul, Steve Wynn who later bought it on. Its present proprietor has lent to the Rijksmuseum present. It is anybody’s guess what an excellent Vermeer would now make at public sale — actually over $100 million or maybe double or treble that

A Vermeer overdose

Standing in entrance of “The Milkmaid,” Rijksmuseum conservator Anna Krekeler explains what emerged from the scans, not least the objects Vermeer overpainted: a rack of hanging jugs behind his topic’s head and a big fireplace basket for drying garments on the ground. He painted them out to simplify the picture. His focus is solely on the maid and that jug of milk she pours for eternity, right here and on numerous fridge magnets.

"The Milkmaid" while being studied.

“The Milkmaid” whereas being studied. Credit score: Courtesy Rijksmuseum/Kelly Schenk

"The Milkmaid," by Johannes Vermeer.

“The Milkmaid,” by Johannes Vermeer. Credit score: Courtesy Rijksmuseum

Consultants like Krekeler are serving to develop our understanding of Vermeer, however we nonetheless know little or no about him, as each a person and painter. Born an innkeeper’s son within the metropolis of Delft within the Dutch Republic in 1632, he died there penniless in 1675, aged simply 43. He left a spouse and 11 youngsters, with one other 4 youngsters having pre-deceased him.

The Rijksmuseum’s head of high quality artwork, Gregor Weber is aware of extra about Vermeer than simply about another dwelling artwork historian. His current analysis has explored, amongst a lot else, how the painter’s conversion to Catholicism — and his subsequent interactions with Jesuit monks in Delft — influenced his work. At 66, that is the curator’s retirement present, he says. However he has been obsessive about the painter since he visited the Nationwide Gallery in London as a 15-year-old schoolboy and encountered two Vermeers hanging on a wall.

“I believe I fainted a little bit,” he recollects. “This artist with such glowing mild. I used to be actually stunned.” And since then? “I have been busy with Vermeer. A lifetime,” he replies. At 18, Weber constructed a digital camera obscura, or pinhole digital camera, at house to check whether or not Vermeer may need used one.

We stroll across the exhibition collectively. His phrases stream out and his ardour is palpable. Each time Weber seems to be at a Vermeer, he appears to identify one thing new, he says, smiling.

"The Lacemaker," by Johannes Vermeer.

“The Lacemaker,” by Johannes Vermeer. Credit score: Johannes Vermeer/Musée du Louvre/Rijksmuseum

Standing in entrance of the tiniest of work, “The Lacemaker’ (measuring 9.5 inches by 8.25), the curator explains how Vermeer noticed issues in a different way from his contemporaries — and the way he understood the viewer’s gaze. Vermeer clearly centered his picture on the lacemaker and the expression of intense focus on her face as she works the material together with her arms. The threads of lace — pink and white — within the foreground are painted in a blur. They’re summary, “like melting wax,” says Weber.

Weber believes Vermeer thought lengthy and onerous about the subject material and composition. However the brand new scientific analysis signifies that he typically painted very quick. The underpaintings “are very contemporary and vivid and fast,” the curator says, including: “In my opinion, he painted it inside per week. Different work in a month.”

But, we’re left with so few to get pleasure from. The traditional Vermeer expertise is a rationed one — one, two or three, at greatest 5, footage in any single museum. The Rijksmuseum’s present is an altogether completely different, nearly hallucinogenic expertise. We depart overwhelmed, having seemingly overdosed on Vermeer — “Vermeered,” you may say.

There are nearly too many work to absorb on one go to. The expertise needs to be slowly absorbed, mirrored on after which repeated. The unfamiliar Vermeers need to be seen once more — and shortly.

“Vermeer” runs February 10 – June 4, 2023 on the Rijksmuseum.