There’s an incredible exhibition on at the Rijksmuseum showcasing the largest collection of his works ever assembled in one place, a total of 28 of the 37 paintings known to exist. From the moment the exhibition was announced I knew I’d have to go. I bought tickets in January and today I went.
It’s an astonishing exhibition, grouped by theme which is a great way to do it, and the explanations in each room help put it in context. There’s also a timeline in the last room of all the known paintings to help you see the chronology of the paintings – my one quibble with the exhibition would be that the tiny scale of the timeline means you can’t see the images unless you’re right up close and given the popularity of the exhibition it is almost impossible to ‘read’ the timeline. And there was a whole empty wall next to they could have used.
I’ve seen the Dutch-held works plenty of times, and seen a few held in museums around the world, but to see them all at once was truly wonderful. You could see similarities across works, and even costumes or props re-used. Such as the painting of Cupid used in the two paintings below, which resembles a painting from Vermeer’s own collection of art, a painting by Cesar van Everdingen.
Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, Johannes Vermeer, 1657-58, oil on canvas. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.
A Young Woman standing at a Virginal, Johannes Vermeer, 1670–72, oil on canvas. The National Gallery, London
The painting on the left, Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, has recently been restored, until 2019 the painting of cupid behind her had been painted over to give a plain white wall. The rediscovery and restoration make it even clearer that the letter is a love letter. The change is so recent that the Vermeer books in the giftshop still include the old unrestored version of the painting.
There is one painting held by the Mauritshuis that I’ve never felt super sure about. It doesn’t have that quiet feeling of a stolen moment that I associated so strongly with Vermeer, but seeing it today in context with two other early works it finally made sense and that’s “Diana and her Companions“.
Diana and her Companions, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1653-1654. Mauritshuis, Den Haag.
As I live in the Hague I visit the Girl with a Pearl Earring fairly often, but today she seemed paler and less interesting in her surroundings. I’m not sure if it’s the black background she was hung against or the company she was keeping.
The exhibition is currently on until the 4th of June but is sold out, the Rijksmuseum currently has this statement on their website
“Interest in the Vermeer exhibition is very high. Unfortunately, there are no more tickets available at the moment. The Rijksmuseum is working hard to give more people the opportunity to see the exhibition. From 6 March, we will provide a new update via the Rijksmuseum website.”
So keep your eyes peeled, and book your tickets quickly if more become available, they will sell out again.
If you can’t make it to Amsterdam, or don’t manage to get tickets, the Rijksmuseum has created a virtual experience that lets you view each image in detail and presents insightful detail of the paintings, including connecting all paintings that share a prop or feature. You can also watch an exploration of each image narrated by Stephen Fry (the Dutch version has Joy Delima as the narrator).
And if that sounds like too much work, this Artnet article lists all the works in the exhibition
Don’t take my word for it; the reviews of this exhibition have been absolute raves, The Guardian called it “one of the most thrilling exhibitions ever conceived“, Washington Post “there will never be another Vermeer show as great as this one” and Forbes “worth a trip to Amsterdam“.
So what is showing at the Mauritshuis while the Girl with a Pearl Earring is visiting Amsterdam? Apparently five works inspired by her, but that’s also been controversial, I might have to drop by and see for myself.