From the museum’s press release, 3 June 2014
More than 60 small paintings by many of the greatest masters from the Dutch and Flemish Golden Age will come together for the first time next October for Small Treasures: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and their Contemporaries at the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA). These small-scale works—most of which are less than 10” tall and wide—were an important part of many artists’ practices but have historically been overlooked by scholars and museum exhibitions. The NCMA will give them overdue attention with Small Treasures and its accompanying catalog, which will be the first publication to exclusively explore these small-scale works and will include full size reproductions of each of the paintings in the exhibition. Small Treasures will be on view at the NCMA from October 12, 2014 through January 4, 2015 and will then travel to the Birmingham Museum of Art from February 1, 2015 to April 26, 2015.
Curated by Dennis P. Weller—the NCMA’s Curator of Northern European Art and a specialist in 17th century Dutch and Flemish art—Small Treasures will show the breadth of style and content that artists employed for these small works and the myriad purposes they served. Many Dutch and Flemish artists painted small-scale works in order to do focused studies on specific painting techniques and subjects. Frans Hals’ striking 6 ½” by 5” Portrait of Samuel Ampzing, for example, was used as a study for a noted reproductive print.
Often, Dutch and Flemish painters created small self-portraits that they could use as “calling cards” with potential patrons. Artists whose self-portraits will be featured in Small Treasures include Gerrit Dou (7 ¼” by 6”), Frans van Mieris (4 ½” by 2 ⅞”), and Jan Steen (9 ¼” by 7 ½”). The majority of the works in Small Treasures are painted on panel or copper, materials with very little texture that allowed for minute details to be brought to life with incredibly small paintbrushes. The works in the exhibition range in size and shape, from van Mieris’ tiny, oval-shaped self-portrait to a detailed, rectangular history scene by Peter Paul Rubens that is 9 ⅜” by 7 ⅝” tall.
“These small paintings include amazing details that pull viewers in and reintroduce them to some of the most iconic names in Dutch and Flemish painting,” said Dennis P. Weller. “I’ve always been interested in these works, which were prevalent in artists’ practices but have been left out of much modern research and are much less frequently displayed than larger paintings from the same period. By bringing so many of them together, we will not only begin to rectify the absence of scholarship in this area, we will invite our audiences to experience a large exhibition that encourages intimate experiences with art in a way that little else can.”
“At the NCMA we are committed to advancing scholarship and providing compelling experiences for our visitors,” said Lawrence J. Wheeler, Director of the North Carolina Museum of Art. “Small Treasures does both of those things: it allows our spectacular curatorial team to bring to light new research that deepens our understanding of one of the most beloved periods of art history and invites our visitors to have close looking experiences with masterpieces by artists whose names will excite them and whom they have yet to meet.”
Additional highlights of the exhibition include:
• Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of an Old Man with a Beard (c. 1630), 7 ¼” by 6 11/16– Recently accepted as an autograph work by Rembrandt, this painting is an example of a ‘tronie’ (character study). Painted only a year or two prior to the painter’s move from his hometown of Leiden to Amsterdam, this small panel exhibits Rembrandt’s deep reservoir of skills, as the expressive features of the old man are coarsely painted yet highly descriptive.
• Johannes Vermeer, Girl in the Red Hat (c. 1665-66), 9 ½” by 7 ⅛” – This image of a girl wearing an exotic, red-feathered hat and cool blue brocade robe shows her looking out with an intimacy and expectancy that is unique to Vermeer’s oeuvre. This is the smallest work Vermeer is known to have painted.
• Johannes Vermeer, Young Woman Seated at a Virginal (c.1670-72), 9 ⅞” by 7 ⅞” – Owing to advances in the technical examination of paintings, as well as a better understanding of Vermeer’s working process and knowledge of his late pictures by scholars, opinion regarding the authenticity of this work has undergone a course correction in recent years and is now fully accepted as a Vermeer.
• Adriaen Brouwer, Youth Making a Face (c. 1632-35), 5 ⅜” by 4 ⅛” – Portraying the bold antics of a youngster, Brouwer’s sparkling painting technique is on view here, and shows developments from his earlier work, likely the result of spending time in Haarlem under the influence of Frans Hals.
• Anthony van Dyck, Portrait of Nicholas Rockox (c. 1636), 6” diameter (round) – This rare grisaille oil sketch of one of Antwerp’s most important politicians and patrons shows van Dyck masterful ability to portray intimacy. The work represents a comparatively recent addition to the oeuvre of van Dyck, as it was only rediscovered at an auction in 1989.
17th-century Dutch and Flemish painting advanced styles and techniques that left a lasting impact on the history of painting. Though these small paintings were common among the most notable names in painting from that era, previous scholarship devoted to Dutch and Flemish portraiture has largely lagged behind studies devoted to other genres and individual artists. The research conducted in preparation for Small Treasures will play an important role in bringing to the surface the history and depth of these small works and an understanding of the important role they played.