Monday, April 30, 2012

The mystique of Vermeer

This famous painting is part of a new exhibition called “Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis,” which features 35 important works by Dutch Golden Age masters—including Vermeer, Rembrandt, Fans Hals, and Jan Steen. It will be traveling from the Hague to the U.S. next year (it goes to the de Young Museum of San Francisco January 26–June 2, 2013; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, June 22–September 29; and th  Frick Collection in New York from October 22, 2013January 12, 2014).
There are only 34 extant paintings that modern scholars overwhelmingly agree should be attributed to Johannes Vermeer of Delft. One very clever individual at one time had a great success bamboozling the art world into believing there were more. His fascinating story is told in The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren. Of those 34 authenticated works, one has gone missing since it was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardiner museum in 1990: The Concert.
Another painting is rarely seen because it belongs to Queen Elizabeth. That's The Music Lesson, which hangs in The Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace (it was acquired by King George III).
Another famous Vermeer has recently undergone a major restoration, and the results are wondrous, especially the blues. That's Woman in Blue Reading a Letter from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, seen below in before and after photos.
If you'd like to delve into the art and world of Vermeer in depth, I recommend bookmarking this interactive online catalog. For viewing in person, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick, and the National Gallery of Art all have multiple Vermeers on permanent exhibition. Below: Mistress and Maid, from the Frick Collection in New York City.


  1. This would be a wonderful exhibition to see! I've always been intrigued by crime in the art community. For some reason, it seems almost romantic. Perhaps I've seen too many heist movies:)

  2. Wow! It's amazing what a difference there is between the before and after photos. The blue color he used for the woman's top is just lovely!

  3. I am curious. Who restores priceless paintings? How? It is sort of surprising there isn't more forgery since one of the tried and true methods of learning is by imitating. In all of the arts really. Maybe there actually is a ton of forgery and we don't know! I don't know.

    1. We have a book called The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece that describes the process for this painting that was found in a priest's sitting room in Scotland. I highly recommend it... lots of great detective work too.

    2. Thanks! I still wonder how the restoration of a painting is done without in some way, however small, detracting from the value of the painting. The last person to touch the lines and colors is now not Vermeer. I am trying to wrap my mind around art and art history. Mindwrap.

  4. I'm quite intrigued by today's post. Not much of an Aesthetic Savant, the most i know about art I learned from Bravo's reality competition program aptly titled Sarah Jessica Parker's Work of Art. When it comes to art, artists, and the big bad world of forgery I wouldn't be able to tell the difference, between an IKEA print or the REAL thing.

  5. Vincent Van GopherMay 1, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    For all you out there considering a career in forgery, the book cited above about Van Meegeren should provide you with some pointers. You'll need to be a talented artist, chemist, scrounger, and con man.
    First, you'll need to find canvas and paints that are as old as the painter you wish to forge. No easy task, but necessary as modern technology can identify the age of the work based on such things as the half-life of certain elements within the paint.

  6. I'd recommend the book Girl with a Pearl Earring. Quite captivating!

  7. I found the book about Van Meegeren's career to be completely fascinating. I was not expecting to be so sucked in to the story, but I could hardly stand to put it down. A part of me was rooting for the forger, since he was an amazingly talented (though awfully corrupt and self-serving) man. Knowing he was caught from the very beginning did not detract in the slightest from the suspense as his operation began to unravel.

    As for the works of the real Vermeer; I can't say I was ever a big fan of the Dutch school until recently. I always thought they were too dark, preferring the lighter, brighter Impressionists and Romantics. A few years ago I was lucky enough to take a trip to Belgium (which is, of course, not the Netherlands, though they are quite similar in many ways). While there, I visited the home of Peter Paul Rubens and went to a few museums, and my appreciation for the Flemish and Dutch masters grew. The darkness of the backgrounds now enhances, rather than diminishes, my appreciation for the luminescence of the subject matter. I've become a convert, you could say.