Saturday, 14 April 2012

What I Did on My Holidays IV

I discovered a whole lot of Vermeers, quite a few of which I didn't even know existed, (I had the idea that only about 30-35 existed anywhere), lurking in the Metropolitan in New York:

 (I think this chair appears in Washington as well, see below)

 Here's what the Met has to say about this painting:
 (oddly in an auction catalogue list from only 40-odd years after it was painted, the picture is actually described, rather unfairly I think, as 'A drunken sleeping maid at a table' - and it appears to have sold for a mere 62 gelders).

Here's what the Met have to say about this one:

 I don't know why I didn't record what the Met had to say about the girl in the picture before this, but this was the wisdom on the wall for this:

and in the National Gallery in Washington:

The Girl with the Red Hat, oil on panel, 1665

Girl with a Flute, attributed to Vermeer

 (I'm sure I've seen this carving on furniture in other Vermeer paintings, including the Woman in the Red Hat just preceding this one - and yes, it turns out that the Wikipedia article on the artist quotes a Time-Life book called The World of Vermeer, by Hans Koning, thus: "Almost all his paintings are apparently set in two smallish rooms in his house in Delft; they show the same furniture and decorations in various arrangements and they often portray the same people, mostly women" - I think at last I understand the comment by Gogol or Gorky or Chekhov that I read long ago, [so long ago, I cannot remember who actually made the comment], that the whole of life can be described simply by describing the room you are sitting in.)

A Lady Writing, oil on canvas, 1665

 (if you're interested in a scholar's speculations on Vermeer's fondness for painting people writing, here is an interesting link)

I suppose everybody else already knew this, but I was astonished by how modern some of these paintings by Vermeer were - that red hat one in particular - and also by how much Bonnard must have been influenced by the artist - see, particularly that one of the dozing girl at a table, from the Metropolitan Museum. I am straying, however, into another of my shameful confessions of a visual illiterate, in which I display my 'I don't know much but I know what I like' ignorance, so at this point I'll shut up, but not before pointing anyone who might be interested towards a copy of a document showing what a bargain a Vermeer might be, were it only possible to time travel - it is to be found here - and also towards a discussion of his work that, possibly stating the bleeding obvious a bit, pinpoints Vermeer's talent for 'infusing scenes of daily life with timelessness and profundity' and comments that 'few artists can claim the consistent level of excellence that Vermeer maintained' (van Eyck, Durer and Holbein spring to mind immediately as other examples of artists who achieve something transcendent through the pursuit of intense technical excellence, and others crowd after them, but still).

(I should also mention that 'Woman Holding a Balance' was also in Washington, but it was not new to me, which is why I didn't include it here - I am fairly sure that anyone looking at this blog will be familiar enough with the image not to want to look at my second-rate pictures of it and I'd already had a good look at it last year in Munich, where it was on a summer holiday [at least, I think it was the same painting).

PS I forgot to include this Vermeer, also in the Metropolitan:


  1. They had no objection to your photographing? Just curious about the policy these days. In any case you wouldn't be using a flash.

    1. No flash, no problem. My camera is silent too, not even a click sound. I know a lot of people, including my brother, disapprove of photographing in galleries, but, apart from anything else, my eyes are not as great as they once were and I love being able to see details of a picture that I miss otherwise - I also like focussing on bits that I sometimes might not notice otherwise. There's a lot to take in in a really great painting and, although the photographs I take don't do anything justice, they do give me pleasure and extra information. They never let you take any kinds of pictures in Britain though, so far as I can tell - it would be against the British nature to allow something I suppose. And, in the case of the UK National Gallery, they prefer to wreck their paintings with over enthusiastic cleaning - or perhaps they don't want people taking pictures that show just what damage they've often done (I assume they aren't as bad as they used to be, but once upon a time they were really rough with paintings when cleaning)