CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Der frühe Vermeer

The young Vermeer Exhibition: 3 September - 28 November 2010

From the museum website, 16 March 2010

The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden is collaborating with the Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery in The Hague and the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh to prepare an international exhibition of the early works of Johannes Vermeer (*Delft 1632 – †Delft 1675). For the first time ever, the exhibition will bring together under one roof all Vermeer’s surviving early paintings – Diana and her Companions (ca. 1653-1654), Christ in the House of Mary and Martha (ca. 1654-1655) and The Procuress (1656).

Vermeer produced some of the finest examples of 17th-century Dutch painting, putting him alongside Rembrandt and Frans Hals as one of the greatest painters to emerge from a country so rich in artists. His excellent reputation continues to this day and is reflected in the numerous, highly successful exhibitions of his work in the Netherlands and abroad.

These exhibitions generally tend to focus on Vermeer’s later style – many variations and refinements of classical depictions of sparsely populated, light-flooded interiors – and ignore the earlier work that provided the foundation for these later paintings. Even the most important retrospective of Vermeer’s work to date, held in The Hague and Washington in 1995/96, failed to bring together his early paintings. Now, all three of his earliest paintings have been fully restored and, for the first time ever, the owners have agreed to temporarily do without their crowd pullers for the benefit of the exhibition.

The exhibition will allow visitors to study Vermeer’s early works in a single exhibition, something that is not likely to be repeated in the near future. Even his first paintings are clearly the work of a master. Viewers will be struck by the assured sense of style with which he incorporates the influence of other artists from the Netherlands and from Italy in his compositions, producing something entirely original and independent. At the same time, these paintings by a young, experimental Vermeer also reveal characteristics that would become crucial to his later style – his exquisite skill as a figure painter, his intense attention to the effects of light and his tendency to create a contemplative calm in his pictures.

The exhibition in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister will feature major works of other artists to accompany each of the three paintings, as well as two lost paintings known only from catalogues. Selected on the basis of their high quality and unique expressive power, these works illustrate in a particularly striking way what inspired Vermeer’s quest for his own style and independence vis-à-vis his role models. Museums and collections around the world have loaned works by famous artists like Jacob Jordaens, Dirck van Baburen, Peter Paul Rubens, Leonaert Bramer, Giovanni Biliverti and Hendrick ter Brugghen, which will allow visitors to the exhibition to gain deep insight into the early stages of Vermeer’s artistic development.

The accompanying catalogue will include a deeper exploration of the subject in essays written by distinguished experts in the field of Dutch art.

The Dresden exhibition will feature a comprehensive educational programme for visitors of all ages, which will take as its starting point Dresden’s second Vermeer, Girl reading a letter at an open window, and will focus on the production of this early masterpiece and the influences of scientific advances during the “Golden Age” in the Netherlands. It will include a specially produced educational film, an experimental area (e.g. a walk-in “Vermeer space”) on visual, spatial and colour composition, a programme dedicated to literary examinations of Vermeer’s paintings, and a series of lectures featuring experts from Germany and abroad.

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