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).
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.
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…!
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…
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.
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…
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)