In my own backyard

Vermeer exhibition
Johannes Vermeer ….Woman Holding a Balance

I love discovering new art experiences in far-flung places. Sometimes, though, I need to remind myself of the wonderful museums right here in Washington DC. I was fortunate to catch two major exhibitions at the National Gallery that are polar opposites in every way.  I began with the blockbuster show Vermeer and the Masters of genre painting. (A twitter-style primer: Johannes Vermeer is the most celebrated painter of 17th century Dutch Golden Age painting. ‘Genre’ painting captures scenes of everyday, domestic life).

Vermeer show
Nicolaes Maes Young Woman Making lace

These paintings are miniaturized, highly detailed glimpses into life in Holland in the late 1600’s.  Apart from appreciating the beauty and skill, two things stood out for me: First, the care taken by the artists to provide narrative clues. For example, look at this brothel scene by Frans Van Mieris.

Vermeer exhibition
Frans Van Mieris Brothel Scene

Did you notice the dogs going at it in the lower right? The artist threw that in there just in case the viewer was in doubt as to where this scene was taking place…!

Vermeer exhibition
Detail

Likewise, in Samuel van Hoogstraten’s View of an Interior (below) we see what appears to be an empty room. But somebody is definitely in there even though we can’t see them – note the shoes on the mat, the keys still hanging on the door…

Vermeer exhibition
Samuel van Hoogstraten View of an Interior

Or in Gabriel Metsu’s Woman Reading a Letter, the maid is pulling back a curtain to reveal a painting of a stormy sea, connoting that the letter could be bringing bad tidings.

Vermeer show
Gabriel Metsu Woman Reading a Letter

This painting brings me to my second take-away from the collection of paintings in this exhibition: There was an awful lot of letter-writing taking place, which made me realize that texting obsessively is just a natural extension of our intrinsic need to communicate.

I was just in awe of the fabulously elaborate clothing and the sumptuousness of textures that seem to leave our contemporary, minimalist aesthetics lacking in some way…

vermeer exhibition

Keep this in mind for my next blog post that will feature minimalist sculptor, Anne Truitt’s solo show, also on exhibit at the National Gallery in Washington DC.

(The Vermeer exhibition closed last weekend. More on the National Gallery website)

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9 thoughts on “In my own backyard

  1. Jennie Lea Schoenfeld January 25, 2018 / 10:10 pm

    Thanks Lilianne,
    These paintings are absolutely laden with symbols, musical instruments are the language of love, messy slippers or bedding, are slovenliness and are not godly, red clothing and drapery suggests lustiness, etc, etc, etc. These beautiful details are like reading through a work, not just a snap viewing. They require contemplation and engagement. I love them too! Thanks for reminding me!
    Regards,
    Jennie

  2. Anonymous January 25, 2018 / 10:24 pm

    Lilianne!!!
    Your new Blog is outstanding! What a dose of exquisite beauty and lightheartedness only you could design!
    (I will open it every morning and enjoy it over and over again..)
    It is just that wonderful!
    You continue to amaze and delight!

    • liliannemilgrom January 25, 2018 / 10:25 pm

      Thanks, Becky!

  3. Judie Weiss January 27, 2018 / 5:41 pm

    I, too, loved the exhibition although it was so crowded the day I went that it was hard to get close to the paintings. The sumptuous fabrics blew me away; I wanted to reach out and stroke them. As for all the little clues, etc, doesn’t it look as though the maid pulling the curtain away in the Metsu painting is holding a cellphone in her left hand? Tongue in cheek, of course! The lady of the house communicates by letter, but the maid by cellphone.

    • liliannemilgrom January 27, 2018 / 5:46 pm

      Nice interpretation, Judie!

  4. Debbie Joffe Ellis January 28, 2018 / 5:37 am

    Incredible and delightful Lilianne ! Thank you for sharing your amazing detailed perceptions and appreciation for the wondrous aspects of these works of art. Love, Deb.

    • liliannemilgrom January 28, 2018 / 1:47 pm

      So generously said, Deb. Thank you!

  5. Joni January 29, 2018 / 3:33 pm

    Vermeer paintings are so rich in detail. Thanks for sharing your insight!

    • liliannemilgrom January 29, 2018 / 11:51 pm

      Yes, just the clothes alone were breathtakingly complex and rich in detail 🙂

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