At first glance, nothing seems to link Jacobus Vrel to the famous Johannes Vermeer except their initials “JV”. However, many of their paintings share the same contemplative calm, the central role played by female figures and, very often, a certain mystery. Thus, many works by Jacobus Vrel were long attributed to Vermeer. Unknown to the general public, they have intrigued and fascinated art historians for over a century. The exhibition will attempt to answer this question: who was this enigmatic painter of the Dutch seventeenth-century?
This first monographic presentation dedicated to the painter brings together his major works, which are scattered around between museums in Amsterdam, Brussels, Detroit, Munich and Vienna, but are also part of prestigious private collections. One of the most famous and surprising genre scenes of the painter, Woman greeting a child at the window that is kept at the Fondation Custodia, will, of course, also be on display in the exhibition.
In order to better understand the originality of Jacobus Vrel’s works, the Fondation Custodia also devotes part of its exhibition to the painter’s Dutch contemporaries who treated similar subjects: city views and interior scenes.
Who was Jacobus Vrel? To discover more about him, an international research project was set up involving three museums: the Alte Pinakothek, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen in Munich; Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt Collection in Paris; and the Mauritshuis. The three museums commissioned dendrochronological analysis (study of tree rings to date wood) of several paintings. It revealed that they are older than was thought. Vrel probably started painting the street scenes in 1635-1640; the earliest interiors date from a few years later. In order to determine his location in the Netherlands, the topography of the streets in his paintings was analyzed. Researchers Dirk Jan de Vries and Boudewijn Bakker, who studied the small streets and façades in the paintings, now assume that some of the streets are in Zwolle. Infrared reflectography* and X-ray fluorescence** revealed several ‘pentimenti’ (changes made by the artist himself). Vrel had changed or painted out figures, for example, including a child in a street scene from the Rijksmuseum collection. This was a way to perfect his compositions. All the research results have been presented in the monograph on Vrel published by the Mauritshuis and its partners in the study (available in English, French and German editions).
The monograph and Catalogue Raisonné on Jacobus Vrel was published earlier in 2021.
Vrel: Forerunner of Vermeer was on view at the Mauritshuis, The Hague (16 February 2023-29 May 2023).
Related CODART publications
Dr. Bernd Ebert, “Unearthing the Enigmatic Jacobus Vrel”, CODARTfeatures, November 2021.