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Friday, 25 July 2014

VERMEER AT THE PMA

A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal
Is It for Real?
By Richard Carreño Posted 26 July 2014
[WritersClearinghouse News Service]
Philadelphia
It's hard not to like the works of the 17th-century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). His paintings are easy on the eyes, noted for a bright, luminous palette; portraying attractive studio scenes, populated with attractive people. He shows off Delft, his hometown, as a middle-class burgh; it's denizens, prosperous and well-attired. Comfort zone, anyone?
 
There's no better Vermeer poster child than Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665). Recently rehung at the Mauritshuis in The Hague, Pearl has most notably in recent years become one of the world's most recognizable portraits. Along the lines of that other general public icon, the Mona Lisa. As in the case with Mona, a door-buster at the Musee du Louvre, mass appeal means massive lines. Before returning to The Netherlands, Pearl had a brief run in New York. The lines were of fire-sale proportions.
 
Not to worry, Philadelphia. Philly Vermeer aficionados are not so troubled in viewing Young Woman Seated at A Virginal (1670-1672), now on a year-long visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. That is, if local fans even want to be so bothered. Amazingly, for a Vermeer, the diminuative oil (25 centimeters by 20 centimeters) is more door-stopper, than buster.
 
I visited the painting recently in Gallery 264, where it has been hanging forlornly on loan since late last year. The gallery is a walk-through space (not a destination gallery), and Young Woman gets nary any attention.
 
'You're here to see the Vermeer, eh?' the museum guard on duty says to me. I nod. 'Oh,' he says. Not exactly, any variant of 'Make my day!'
 
The problem is that Young Woman, one of Vermeer's last works he painted in his truncated, 43-years, isn't really a Vermeer.


No, not what you think.
 
Yes, Vermeer has been over years one of the most forged masters in all Western art. In fact, Young Woman was even under scrutiny as a disputed work, but has been since the 1990s, at least, been authenticated a true Vermeer and has joined the ranks of the three-dozen, or so, known pictures by the painter.
What I mean is the Young Woman lacks true Vermeer common values. It misses the fine light that enlightens; instead, imbued with a sullen, dim, wash of color. The familiar studio scene features a plain-looking girl, more old maid than one Vermeer's more typically pleasing, attractive female models. Even her garments fail to radiate the style and panache of those which brighten and enliven many other Vermeer works.
 
Incidentally, this painting is not to be confused with another similar Vermeer, Lady Seated at a Virginal (circa 1670), or even Lady Standing at a Virginal (circa 1670). (Vermeer, apparently, had a thing for virginals, a keyboard harpsichord-like instrument). No worries. Despite coevality with Young Woman, the two Ladies feature Vermeer's striking technical virtues, and are easy to spot as the real deals.
 
I've made the rounds of most of the Vermeer's works in visits from New York (the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Frick) to Washington (National Gallery of Art), Paris (Louvre), Dublin (the National Gallery of Ireland), London (Kenwood House and National Gallery), Amsterdam (the Rijksmuseum),  and Berlin (Gemaldegalerie). Fortunately, I even had the chance to view The Concert (1665-1666) at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston before it was stolen in 1990. It has never been retrieved.
 
Young Woman is the only Vermeer to be in private hands. Once it leaves Philadelphia on 30 September, the painting will return to its New York owner.
 
So, yes, join the line of one at the PMA, if you like. The picture is a Vermeer, after all. And when the PMA tour is done, Philadelphia will have none.

 

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