CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Johannes Vermeer, A lady writing

Presentation: 7 November 2008 - 2 February 2009

Museum press release, April 2008, taken from the museum website, 6 July 2008

The Norton Simon Museum Presents Vermeer’s A Lady Writing, On Loan from the National Gallery of Art as Part of an Art Exchange Program

Pasadena, CA— The Norton Simon Museum presents a special installation of Johannes Vermeer’s A Lady Writing, c. 1665-66, a delicate yet captivating painting on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. One of about 35 known works by the Dutch master, the painting will be on view from November 7, 2008 to February 2, 2009, providing audiences with the rare opportunity to see a work by Vermeer on the west coast.

The loan of A Lady Writing is the second in a series of exchanges between the Norton Simon foundations and the National Gallery of Art. The program, launched in summer 2007 with the lending of the Norton Simon’s Rembrandt Portrait of a Boy, Presumed to be the Artist’s Son, Titus (c. 1645-50) to the National Gallery of Art. The arrival of A Lady Writing marks the first loan from the National Gallery to the Norton Simon Museum.

“For our first incoming loan, we wanted to choose something that is rare and not represented in any public collection in the western United States, and that choice was a Vermeer,” says Norton Simon Museum President Walter W. Timoshuk. “We are delighted that our visitors will have the opportunity to experience this remarkable painting, which has never before been seen in Los Angeles.”

Last year, the Norton Simon’s loan of Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Boy brought this historic painting back to Washington, where it was first viewed in 1965,” says National Gallery of Art Director Earl A. Powell III. “This affords us the unique opportunity to return the favor and offer one of the Gallery’s finest and most beloved works to the Norton Simon Museum, so art lovers on the west coast can appreciate the magic of Vermeer’s painting.”

A Lady Writing will be installed in the Norton Simon Museum’s 17th-century Dutch gallery, alongside the Museum’s significant collection of Rembrandt portraits and other examples of 17th-century Dutch genre paintings. During the three-month installation, the Museum will offer a series of free public programs, including lectures, special tours, spotlight talks, and children’s events, centered on the special loan.

The Painting

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) is one of the world’s most venerated artists, yet he left behind only a few dozen paintings and no drawings or prints. While he rarely dated his pictures, experts place A Lady Writing in the mid-1660s. The painting depicts a young woman, sitting at a desk, wearing an ermine-trimmed yellow morning jacket (which viewers may recognize from Vermeer’s other paintings Woman with a Pearl Necklace, The Love Letter, Woman with a Lute, and Mistress and Maid), pearl earrings, and golden ribbons in her hair. A strand of pearls and a ribbon rest on the desk near her left hand. While she is poised to write, with a quill pen in her right hand, her left hand resting on a piece of paper, and ink wells and a writing box on her desk, her gaze is not at her letter but rather at the viewer. Her slight smile and open expression draw the viewer into the picture. As with his other paintings, Vermeer has transformed the depiction of everyday activities into a compelling and captivating scene.

“This had to be one of the most delightful exercises our curators ever had in decision-making,” says Norton Simon Museum Chief Curator Carol Togneri. “The National Gallery of Art has an abundance of paintings by Vermeer, but A Lady Writing was our first and ultimate choice: Vermeer signed the frame of the painting that hangs behind her in the picture, and the exquisite jacket has made an appearance in other works by the artist. Both the jacket and the painting in the background were documented in the inventory of Vermeer’s estate after he died.”

“One of the many joys of this wonderful painting is how it pulls you out of the fast pace of everyday life and encourages you to stop, gaze and reflect,” says National Gallery of Art Curator of Northern Baroque Painting Arthur Wheelock. “We can savor the image for the beauty of Vermeer’s yellows and blues, for the luminosity of the pearls; or for the softness of the jacket’s ermine trim, but it is the woman’s open yet penetrating gaze that ultimately draws us in and captures our imagination.”

Art Exchange Program

In 2007 the Norton Simon foundations entered a new phase in their history by forming an art exchange program with both the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and The Frick Collection in New York City. Works of art from the Norton Simon foundations will be lent to both of these estimable institutions for special viewings and, in return, masterpieces from their collections will make their way to the Norton Simon Museum. The exchange is an opportunity to promote the Norton Simon collections to a much wider audience while simultaneously providing Southern California audiences the chance to view some of the world’s most significant and visually compelling paintings.

The program launched in summer 2007 with the lending of the Norton Simon’s Rembrandt Portrait of a Boy, Presumed to be the Artist’s Son, Titus (c. 1645-50) to the National Gallery of Art. In early 2009, five of the Simon’s masterpieces (Jacopo Bassano’s Flight into Egypt, c. 1544-45; Peter Paul Ruben’s Holy Women at the Sepulchre, c. 1611-14; Guercino’s Aldrovandi Dog, c. 1625; Francisco de Zurbarán’s Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose, 1633; and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s Birth of St. John the Baptist, c. 1655) will be installed at The Frick in a special presentation titled Masterpieces of European Art from the Norton Simon Museum.