Friday, August 28, 2009

Vermeer’s Milkmaid in New York

Vermeer - The Milkmaid (De melkmeid)
It’s not that often that I get excited about the the occasion of a single painting crossing the Atlantic Ocean, except for those occasions when it happens to be one of the finest paintings by one of history’s finest painters, and particularly if that painter is Johannes Vermeer.

Celebrating the 400th anniversary of the historic voyage of Henry Hudson (as in name of the river) from Amsterdam to New York (as in New Amsterdam), Vermeer’s The Milkmaid (De melkmeid, high resolution image here) will be on loan from Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from September 10 to November 29, 2009.

Historically, Vermeer’s works have not travelled often, though that seems to be happening more frequently these days, and The Milkmaid has not been on this side of the Atlantic since it was exhibited at the 1939 World’s Fair.

The painting, one of only 35 (give or take an attribution) by the enigmatic Dutch artist, is widely acknowledged to be one of his finest, and will be displayed in the company of the Met’s own astonishing collection of 5 Vermeers, including another pinnacle of his work (and my personal favorite), Young Woman with a Water Pitcher..

In both of these works, the humble subject of a woman pouring, or about to pour, liquid from one vessel to another is imbued with Vermeer’s almost magical command of light, pouring in through the vessel of a leaded glass window and drenching his physical objects in its liquid warmth.

The Girl With a Pearl Earring gets the glory because it has become a cultural icon, but it is in Vermeer’s more complete works like these that we see the master’s extraordinary abilities to best advantage.

The Met is also surrounding the Vermeers with works by Pieter de Hooch, Nicolaes Maes and other Vermeer contemporaries (see my post on Pieter de Hooch).

In addition, if you can make it to the exhibition, you are only a short distance from three more of Vermeer’s extraordinary paintings at the Frick Collection. Wow.

For more on Vermeer we can turn, as always, to Jonathan Janson’s amazing web resource, Essential Vermeer (and his related blog, Flying Fox).

Janson has just put the finishing touches on a terrific addition to this already dazzling resource with the Complete Catalog of the Paintings of Johannes Vermeer. This includes a notice for tracking all Vermeer paintings currently traveling, and has in-depth articles and interactive features on all of Vermeer’s known works. (I say known works because Vermeer fans are always hoping another will turn up in a dusty attic in Paris somewhere.)

Janson’s article/interactive on The Milkmaid has a rollover feature that goes into detail about various aspects of the painting and its contents, and there are numerous articles on related topics in other portions of the site. (See my previous posts on Jonathan Janson and The Essential Vermeer.)

So if you are in New York this Fall, and are inclined to experience the magic of light from the 17th Century, captured, distilled and bottled by Vermeer’s genius and released in your presence like a mist of poetry scented photons, here is your chance.

10 thoughts on “Vermeer’s Milkmaid in New York

  1. Escape Artist

    Hi Charley,

    Thanks for the info on this exquisite painting. I’m hoping I can escape to New York to see it this fall. I will be Tweeting this as I think other Vermeer fans will want to know, as I did. THX!

    @artistescapes

  2. Daniel van Benthuysen

    For artists who are so inclined, Janson has also self-published a book, “How to Paint Your Own Vermeer.” In it, he focuses on procedure and technical steps without depending too much on 17th century materials that may difficult or impossible for artists to come by today. The medium he uses to imitate Vermeer’s oil painting style, for example, is the Winsor & Newton product, Liquin.

  3. Lori

    I am so jazzed up about this exhibition. Somehow just celebrating one piece makes it all that much more exciting. You mention the Girl With the Pearl Earring as an icon, but this “historic” voyage of The Milkmaid could potentially elevate this work to iconic image as well.

    It will be interesting to see how The Met curates. I think bringing in contemporaries is key to providing the compare/contrast link between the artists as well as defining the particular elements of the period/style that you see carried through each artist. I do wonder why they did not borrow the Frick’s collection of Vermeer’s. A sub-theme to the exhibition, perhaps?

  4. Pagan Sphinx

    Four hours drive to NY from western Massachusetts will be worth it to see this Vermeer, for sure. There were a couple at The Frick Collection last year that if memory serves, were traveling from elsewhere.

    Great blog.

  5. patricia

    I went to the Met yesterday to see this beautiful, luminous, richly painted masterpiece. Despite the crowd, I was able to make my way up to being 2 feet from this incredible painting. I am in awe of Vermeer and feel small and inadequate as a painter. Go see it!

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