Vermeer’s ‘Chance of a Lifetime’ exhibition to open in Amsterdam

For once, say its curators, “the opportunity of a lifetime” may be the right one: Never before have so many works by Johannes Vermeer, the luminous 17th-century Dutch master, been brought together in the same place, and it is highly unlikely that they do it. be again

Of the fewer than 40 paintings most experts attribute to the artist, the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam has obtained 28. With its first Vermeer retrospective opening next week, more advance tickets have been sold than any other show in the museum’s history.

“Vermeer makes the clock stop,” said Taco Dibbits, director general of the Rijksmuseum. “He gives you the feeling that you are there, with that person, in that room, and that time has stopped. And time, especially today, is what we all long for.”

Born in 1632, Vermeer is the most enigmatic of the Dutch masters. Apart from his canvases, nothing remains of him: no letters, no writings, no diary. A trained artist, his work was barely recognized during his lifetime, mainly because, in a strongly Protestant country, he converted to Catholicism when he married at the age of 21.

Museums and private owners in seven countries have loaned masterpieces for the show, including nearly every atmospherically lit and intimate domestic scene—a maid pouring a jug of milk, a girl sewing lace, a woman in a virginal—for which Vermeer is the best. acquaintance.

The National Gallery of London has sent Young woman seated before a virginal; the Louvre in Paris supplied The Lacemaker; and the National Gallery, Dublin lent Woman writing a letter with her maid. Other works of art have come from Berlin, New York and Tokyo.

Some haven’t traveled very far, of course: all four of the Rijksmuseum’s Vermeers, including The Milkmaid, are on display, and perhaps the artist’s most famous work, Girl with a Pearl Earring, was just down the road in the Mauritshuis in Hague.

But the great fragility of the paintings, most of which were made between 1655 and 1670, their value and the fact that they have become prized assets in many of the museums that house them, mean that they rarely travel.

“It’s been amazing to watch,” Dibbits said. “This is an artist who produced 45, maybe 50 paintings. We know of 37 of them, and to put together 28… When you have a party, you expect everyone you invite to come. Well, almost everyone who could has done it.

The initial spark for the show came, he said, when the Rijksmuseum’s team of curators realized that the Frick Collection in New York, which has not allowed its three Vermeers to travel for more than a century, would close in 2023 for refurbishment. .

It took “a lot of hard work,” but in the end only nine known works by the artist will be missing. One was stolen from a Boston museum in 1990; two, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, cannot be lent due to the terms of his bequest; and another, from the Louvre, is on loan elsewhere. Most of the rest are too fragile to travel.

The exhibition is not without controversy. Late last year, the Rijksmuseum said that after careful comparative and scientific research, it was confirming the attribution to Vermeer of three works whose authenticity had been questioned by some experts.

The most surprising was The Girl with the Flute, which the National Gallery of Art in Washington said last October that it did not believe was a genuine Vermeer, but had probably been produced by an unspecified partner.

Dibbits said: “Look, there are differences of opinion on Rembrandts, with over 300 paintings to compare. When you have so few jobs to go on, you can draw different conclusions from the same data. Attribution is not a hard science.”

He said a recent comprehensive study had shown that beneath the meticulous details of Vermeer’s images lay broad, vigorous strokes that went against previous notions of how he worked.

Related: Vermeer will never look the same after the Amsterdam exhibition | jonathan jones

The investigation also revealed the deep Jesuit influence on his art. Light, optics and focus were a recurring theme in Jesuit literature: the order contemplated, for example, the dark cameraa precursor to the camera that projects an image onto a surface from a small hole on the opposite side, as a tool for observing God’s divine light.

One of the dark cameraThe effect of ‘s is to focus the light on one point, while blurring and distorting the rest; precisely the effects found in many of Vermeer’s calm and atmospheric interiors. This was clear evidence, Dibbits said, of a Jesuit connection that was “not just religious, but artistic.”

Vermeer is on view from February 10 to June 4 at the Rijksmuseum, whose groundbreaking exhibition on slavery, the source of much of the wealth generated by the Dutch Golden Age, is on display this month at the UN headquarters in New York: timely recognition, Dibbits said, of the “continuing impact of slavery on world history.”

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