One of the most anticipated exhibitions of 2017 begins its world tour from Paris. The display Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting is about to open at the Musée du Louvre. It comprises 12 paintings by the Delft master which is a third part of the artist’s surviving oeuvre. Last time such a landmark retrospective of Johannes Vermeer took place half a century ago.
Loaned by the renowned American,English,German and Dutch museums,the canvases will be on display at the National Gallery of Ireland this summer,and travel overseas to Washington afterwards.
French journalist and art critic Théophile Thoré-Bürger revealed Johannes Vermeer to the world late in the 19th century and coined him as "The Sphinx of Delft." It has served mainly to promote an enigmatic image of the painter,the myth of the solitary genius has done the rest. Yet Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting refutes the legend of the recluse,who allegedly lived in his own isolated and silent world.
Johannes Vermeer (1632−1675) was an artist among many others,he did not attain his level of creative mastery in isolation from the art of his time. In fact,his artistic character outlines more clearly as we look through the work of his colleagues.
Left: Johannes Vermeer,Allegory of the Catholic Faith, ca. 1670−72. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Vermeer has done more than just launched a new style,he has become the quintessential of the transformations.
Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, ca. 1664. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Pieter de Hooch, A Woman Weighing Gold Coin, ca. 1664. Gemäldegalerie - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
Canvases by the Delft master at Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting are supplemented by the work of his fellow painters of the Dutch Golden Age including Gerrit Dou, Gerard ter Borch, Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch, Gabriel Metsu and others. The display shows the place of Vermeer in the galaxy of masters who excelled in capturing everyday surroundings in exquisite detail.
The global economic impact of the Dutch Republic reached its peak in the third quarter of the 17th century. To show off their social status,members of the local elite demanded a type of art that reflected their self-image. So,the ‘new wave' of genre painting emerged in the early 1650s: the artists began to focus on idealized depictions of the domestic life within refined society.
Left: Johannes Vermeer,The Lacemaker, ca. 1669−1670. Musée du Louvre.
Even though all mentioned artists lived and worked in different cities in the Republic of the United Provinces of the Netherlands,their work bears strong similarities in technique,style,subject matter,and composition. Exceptionally high quality of their work may partially be produced due to the vibrant artistic rivalry between them.
Johannes Vermeer, A Lady Writing, c. 1665. The National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Johannes Vermeer, A Young Woman Seated at the Virginal c. 1670. The National Gallery, London.
Attempts by Dutch painters of the Golden Age to surpass each other in verisimilitude,technical prowess and aesthetic appeal will be reflected in the title that the exhibition gets when moving to Ireland,and then to the United States. It will there be entitled as "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry."
Johannes Vermeer, The Astronomer, 1668. Musée du Louvre, Paris.
Gerrit Dou, Astronomer by Candlelight, ca. 1665. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Subjects,compositions and figure types in Vermeer’s paintings owe much to works by artists from other Dutch cities. For example,his depictions of a young woman reading a letter in a moment of quiet contemplation derives from the work of Ter Borch,who lived in Deventer. The artist’s pictorial innovations and psychological insights had a profound impact on his colleagues-contemporaries.
Gerard ter Borch, The Letter (detail), ca. 1660-65. The Royal Collection Trust, London.
Johannes Vermeer, Woman Reading a Letter, ca. 1662-1663. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Amsterdam.
Vermeer freely borrowed from artists from Dordrecht,Leiden and Amsterdam. They,in turn,adopted stylistic and thematic elements from his work. Visitors of Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting in all three cities will be able to compare small groups of paintings and observe how the artists disguised their borrowings.
Rather than presenting Vermeer as an enigmatic artist working in isolation,the aim of this exhibition is to highlight his relationships with his contemporaries.
In addition,when the exhibition runs in Ireland,a documentary film, entitled,‘Vermeer — The Man His Time His World' directed by Jean-Pierre Cottet will be released. The film is a co-production between France,Ireland,and the USA.
Written by Vlad Maslow on materials by the Louvre,the National Gallery of Ireland and the National Gallery of Art,Washington DC.