A new exhibit recently opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC with 10 paintings by Vermeer and many others by his contemporaries. While the exhibit seeks to shed light on the Dutch contribution to genre painting, a paradigm shift, if you will, to capturing the ordinary moments of life, all that the other Dutch Masters in this exhibit reinforce is that Vermeer is quite the simply the master and stands in a class of his own.
All you have to do is walk through this exhibit and you can pick out the Vermeers at a quick glance, and–frankly–dispense with most of the rest. My art instructor had far stronger words than these and she is right. In my view, there is too much refinement and subtlety in Vermeer’s work, to pay to much attention to, dare I say it, the garishness, distance and inability to convey soulfulness of subject in the work of some of the other artists. While Vermeer bathes his subjects in the most numinous moments of the subdued cloudy northern light of his native Holland, some of his contemporaries appear to be painting under the 1600’s equivalent of modern fluorescent tubes.
The intimacy and locked-in geometry of the Vermeers are unsurpassed. I would agree that ‘the love letter’, as the Washington Post reviewer wrote has “too much to resolve,” but the rest succeed unreservedly. And then there is that light, which the Post reviewer states perfectly, “makes us crave our own dissolution into this perfect existential moment,”into that sense of oneness. And that perfecting of a moment in each of his paintings more than three centuries ago, paradoxically, is what makes Vermeer timeless.
A Woman with a Lute c.1663-64, Johannes Vermeer