This video says about itself:
Exhibition on Screen: Vermeer and Music. Cinema Trailer
On 28 January 2018, I went to see this film. The London exhibition which the film is about was unique, as Vermeer paintings depicting music were exhibited together for the first time. Vermeer depicted musical instruments and people playing them quite often: on one-third of the paintings known to be by him, 12 out of 36.
Vermeer made more paintings than 36: probably about 50. Not that many: he worked slowly and meticulously. And he lived 1632-1675, dying at only 43 years old.
What do we know about Vermeer‘s life? Not much. We don’t have writings by the painter on his works or other subjects. He did not give his paintings titles. Like older Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. Like with Bosch, this means there are many hypotheses on his art of which we don’t know whether they are true or not.
Let us compare Vermeer to his older contemporaries Rubens and Rembrandt. All three lived in the Low Countries, ruled in the sixteenth century by the king of Spain. In 1568, the Low Countries revolted against excessive taxation of the urban bourgeoisie by the absolute monarchy, and the Spanish’s Inquisition’s persecution of Protestants. Spanish armed forces managed to crush the rebellion in the southern provinces (roughly, what is now Belgium). However, in 1648 Spain had to recognize the independence of the northern provinces (roughly, what is now the Netherlands).
The newly independent Dutch state was special for being a republic instead of a monarchy like other European countries. Its ruling class were, unlike elsewhere, not nobles with an emperor or king on top of a hierarchical pyramid, but mainly urban bourgeois. This social and political change also made for a change in art in the seventeenth century. In most European countries, artists were then still dependent on princes and other feudal aristocrats; and, where Roman Catholicism was the state religion, on the Roman Catholic hierarchy. That was also true for Rubens’ Spanish Netherlands (roughly: present Belgium).
In the European seventeenth century, the establishment view on art considered Christian religious, historical and ancient Roman mythological subjects to be the most noble ones for painting. Catholic church dignitaries commissioned religious work; secular aristocrats commissioned historical and mythological art which often made complimentary allusions to seventeenth century monarchs and nobles.
But the new Dutch republic was different. There, the new urban bourgeois rulers wanted art which they could relate to their own lives more. Money to buy art was more widespread than in other countries; seventeenth century Dutch artists made millions of paintings. Also, often on different subjects than traditionally or still customary abroad.
As this blog has mentioned before, Rembrandt in the northern independent republic made less religious art and far less historical and mythological art than Rubens in the southern Roman Catholic Spanish Netherlands.
How does Vermeer fit in this? Let us look at the Wikipedia list of 34 works ‘firmly attributed to Vermeer’. According to the London National Gallery and the film, two other works, including A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals, should be added to make 36.
Of these 36 works, only one depicts Roman mythology, Diana and her Companions, maybe Vermeer’s earliest painting. So, less than 3% of his oeuvre, even less than Rembrandt, far less than Rubens. Vermeer, a burgher of Delft city, fitted in the new art of the new republic.
How about Christian religious art? Only two of the 36 paintings, 5,5%. There used to be a third one, The Supper at Emmaus; however, it turned out to be a twentieth century forgery by Han van Meegeren.
So, considerable less religious art by Vermeer than by Rembrandt, let alone Rubens. Of these two religious paintings, one is an early work. The other one is The Allegory of Faith. It is special, at it was probably commissioned by the Roman Catholic Church which did not buy much art in the seventeenth century Dutch republic. Far less so than in Rubens’ Spanish Netherlands where it was the official church. Like Rubens, Vermeer had been born in a Protestant family, but converted to Roman Catholicism later. In Vermeer’s case, to be able to marry his wife.
The Allegory of Faith is unlike most other Roman Catholic religious paintings. One might expect a depiction of Saint Peter’s Church in Rome, or some smaller but still big church. Instead, it depicts the interior of an urban house, like so many of Vermeer’s works. Roman Catholic services were only allowed in the Dutch republic in buildings which did not look like churches on the outside.
70% of Rembrandt’s work is portraits or self-portraits. 0% of Vermeer’s work is (a detail in one painting may be a self-portrait, but that is not certain).
The overwhelming majority of Vermeer’s work, over 90% is genre painting, plus a few in the cityscapes category. These two categories were not favourite subjects for Rubens: too ‘bourgeois’ for the Spanish Netherlands. Not favourite subjects for Rembrandt because of personal preference. However, Vermeer’s genre painting fitted in well with the Dutch Republic’s new urban upper class; like the portraits which Rembrandt preferred.
As the film notes, there are contradictions between Vermeer’s life and his work. His art usually has a peaceful, quiet atmosphere; but the painter lived in a probably noisy house with eleven children.
Vermeer also often depicted affluent persons at home, but he was not rich himself. In 1672, the Dutch republic was at war with France and other enemies. The art market collapsed and Vermeer became poor. The shock of poverty killed him in 1675.
Vermeer did not become famous initially. In the nineteenth century, French art critic Théophile Thoré-Bürger rescued him from undeserved oblivion. Thoré-Bürger was a radical democrat who praised the realism of his socialist contemporary Gustave Courbet. Though an opponent of French Roman Catholic clericalism, he appreciated Roman Catholic Vermeer for depicting mainly scenes from urban daily life, not religious or historical themes, still considered superior by the nineteenth century art establishment.
After this rediscovery, Vermeer’s paintings became dramatically more expensive, making lots of money more than the maker ever made; like happened to many other artists. 12 out of 36 paintings are now in the USA.
New research on Girl with the pearl earring: here.
This 2001 video is called Vermeer: Master of Light (COMPLETE Documentary).
From daily The Morning Star in Britain:
Saturday 18th March 2017
That changed in the mid-19th century, when his paintings of domestic interior scenes of middle-class life grew in popularity in Europe and, eventually, internationally.
Vermeer was not a prolific painter — only 34 canvases are directly attributed to him today — because he worked slowly and meticulously.
He was by no means wealthy and the pigments he used were expensive and this is possibly a reason why his works are few in number.
Almost all his paintings appear to be set in two rooms in his house and feature the same furniture and decorations and very often the same people, usually women.
Taschen publishers are noted for the quality of their art books and that is again in evidence in the newly and sumptuously produced Vermeer: The Complete Works (£25).
It draws on the complete catalogue of his output, with the images accompanied by a detailed and informative commentary.
The quality of the reproductions are such that Vermeer’s extraordinary representation of light shines through on every page and close-ups of selected canvases enhance one of the great pleasures of observing Vermeer’s work — constructing one’s own narrative about his subjects.
The book is a fitting tribute to a painter acknowledged as one of the greats of the Dutch “golden age.”
Win a copy of Vermeer: The Complete Works. The Morning Star has a copy of Vermeer: The Complete Works to give away as a prize. All you have to do is name Vermeer’s birthplace and send your answer on a postcard to Vermeer Competition, 52 Beachy Road, London E3 2NS or by email to email@example.com. Please ensure you include your full name and address with your answer.
Closing date: Saturday March 25, 2017
This video is called A Real Vermeer; Official Trailer, UK subs, 2016.
Young and talented Han van Meegeren is a rebel in the early 1920’s Amsterdam art scene.
This is incorrect. As the film shows correctly, Van Meegeren (1889-1947) was then in the The Hague art scene; not the Amsterdam one.
Van Meegeren was a technically able visual artist. He had a ‘reactionary’ dislike of avant garde artists like Picasso, much preferring art of long ago. He knew much about seventeenth century painters’ techniques, which would help him in forging ancient art. He was invited by quite some artistically conservative rich people to paint their portraits, making him well-off.
Just to prove a point, he produces a fake Vermeer and tries to pass it off as a real one. It works. Instead of revealing the truth and thereby embarrassing the art world, he continues to make money off his many forgeries. Soon he is caught in a web of lies and deceit, and his life spins out of control. Then one day, high-ranking Nazi Hermann Göring knocks on his door, looking for a Vermeer for his private collection.
Director Rudolf van den Berg has said that his movie ‘is not about the real Han van Meegeren’.
The film adds many fictional elements to the real story of Van Meegeren’s life. Eg, Van Meegeren did not meet Göring personally, as Van den Berg depicts; but sold his fake ‘Vermeer’ to the nazi bigwig via an intermediary.
When Van Meegeren was a teenager, his father did not want him to become an artist. As a punishment for his son’s artistic ambitions, the father made Han write again and again: ‘I am nothing, I know nothing, I am unable to do anything’. In the film, when bad things happen to Van Meegeren, he writes these self-humiliating lines all over his studio. Though it is improbable that the adult real Van Meegeren did that, the authoritarian education by his father probably did leave negative marks on Han’s personality.
The main theme of the film is a supposed conflict between Van Meegeren and prominent Dutch art expert Abraham Bredius (1855-1946) about Bredius‘ wife; and that Van Meegeren started counterfeiting Vermeer as a revenge on his rival in love. The only true part in the film here is that Van Meegeren hated Bredius. However, ancient art specialist Bredius never judged twentieth century artists like Van Meegeren, as far as we know. There is also no evidence of Bredius’ wife being a factor in Van Meegeren’s actions. Bredius, in fact, never married; he was gay. Jólanka Lakatos, Bredius’ wife in the film, is fictional.
This film poster shows Van Meegeren and Jólanka Lakatos. The caption at the top of the poster says, translated: ‘Only his love for her is real’. However, as Ms Lakatos is fiction, that would make everything about Van Meegeren in this film not real.
The real Bredius was really fooled by a Van Meegeren forgery, Christ at Emmaus, in 1937; and claimed it was a real Vermeer. On the authority of Bredius and other art experts, the famous Rotterdam museum Boijmans Van Beuningen bought the painting for much money. Ironically, much earlier, in 1883, Bredius had established his fame as a Vermeer expert by pointing out that another ‘Vermeer’ painting was not really by the Delft artist. And he established his reputation as a Rembrandt scholar by claiming scores of ‘Rembrandts’ were not really by Rembrandt.
Then, the issue of Van Meegeren’s extreme right sympathies. In the film, the lead character is in Italy; without commenting on a Mussolini propaganda poster there. Later, he speaks to his financial adviser in a room with an Adolf Hitler portrait on the wall. Again, without commenting on that.
During the real nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the real Van Meegeren joined the pro-nazi art organisation Kultuurkamer and became very rich.
In the film, the master forger dedicates (this seems to have happened really) a drawing to ‘my beloved Fuehrer’ Hitler. Hitler is now disliked as an artistically conservative artist by many people; like Van Meegeren was disliked by pro-avant garde critics.
In Dutch movie magazine De Filmkrant, November 2016, reviewer Erik Spaans wrote (translated):
In Rudolf van den Berg’s A Real Vermeer art forger Han van Meegeren is depicted as a tormented artist and a rascal hungry for revenge. In reality, Van Meegeren’s motives were rather profit and opportunism.
Spaans bases this view on what he calls the best biography of Van Meegeren: The Man Who Made Vermeers, by Jonathan Lopez. An English producer has bought the film rights to Lopez’ book. Spaans hopes this will result in a more historically correct film about Van Meegeren.
This 2009 video from the USA is called Jonathan Lopez on “The Man Who Made Vermeers” at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
After the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich, Dutch authorities arrested Van Meegeren, as they suspected him of selling real ancient Dutch art to nazi enemies; which meant treason. As penalties for forging art were much lower than for treason, Van Meegeren then confessed that his ‘Vermeers’ and other ‘ancient Dutch masters’ were really by himself. He confessed that first to police; not in a public session of a court of justice, as the film depicts it. It turned out that the confession was true, and Van Meegeren was sentenced to one year in prison for forgery, not to a much harsher penalty for treason.
In 1947, just before the prison sentence would begin, Han van Meegeren died of a heart attack in a hospital (so, not ‘in prison’ as Spaans writes).
Many people started to see Van Meegeren as a sort of anti-nazi hero, someone who had managed to fool the hated Hermann Göring. According to Spaans, that is undeserved; and Van den Berg’s film does not say much against that.
Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands today:
The original location of The Little Street by Johannes Vermeer appears to be at the Vlamingstraat 40-42 in Delft. Until now it was not clear where the famous painting was created. Frans Grijzenhout, Professor of Art History at the University of Amsterdam, says the address has been found.
Grijzenhout consulted for his research records which had been kept exactly how much tax canal house owners had to pay for the deepening of the canals and the maintenance of the wharfs at their doors.
This registry gives the researchers an up to fifteen centimeter accurate picture of the breadth of all the houses and the gates at the time of Vermeer. Thus Grijzenhout discovered two houses at the narrow canal along the Vlamingstraat.
Much has changed with the buildings of Vlamingstraat 40-42 since the age of Vermeer, as this 2015 photo shows. Basically, only the gate is left. When Vermeer painted, mostly poor refugees from Flanders lived there. The name Vlamingstraat still reminds today about them.
Now, that painting and other famous paintings are back at the Mauritshuis. Which is reopening: twice the size it used to be.
This video from the Netherlands is called Mauritshuis museum to reopen in June  after renovation.
This is a Dutch video of today, about the Mauritshuis reopening.
This video is called How a Dutch Master Made ‘The Goldfinch‘ Come Alive.
The painting recently got in the news because of the novel of the same name by Donna Tartt.
This video is called BBC: Donna Tartt shares The Goldfinch’s secret history.
Pearl of a museum: Vermeer shines among Dutch icons in new Mauritshuis: here.
This video from Brazil says about itself:
This blog entry is because this is an interesting video about a beautiful painting.
It is also because the woman in the painting, like many seventeenth century Dutch women, is wearing a headscarf.
While headscarves today drive some people who in their Islamophobic Dutch nationalist lunacy claim to admire Johannes Vermeer’s seventeenth century, hysterical.
More background about this is here.
Some of Vermeer’s works are in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum.
Visitors to the Rijksmuseum will soon be able to see Vermeer’s newly restored Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, 1663-64, when it returns home following a Japanese tour which funded the work’s restoration: here.
- The subtle modesty of Vermeer (newstatesman.com)
- Rembrandt’s birthday and music (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
- Arrived in Paris – What about Dutch painting? (travelswithpicasso.wordpress.com)
- Vermeer’s Virginal Player Led Astray By Cupid in London – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Rijksmuseum (travelswithpicasso.wordpress.com)
- Teller’s ‘Tim’s Vermeer’ Bought By Sony Classics (variety.com)
- the girl with a pearl earring (filmstvandlife.wordpress.com)
- Master of Light: A Close Look at the Paintings of Johannes Vermeer Narrated by Meryl Streep (openculture.com)
- Fashion Inspired by Art: Johannes Vermeer’s “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” (collegefashion.net)
- Hirst Billboards, Food Fest, Vermeer: London Weeekend – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)