Best known for quiet, carefully described images of domestic life as seen in works by Johannes Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch, and others, Delft masters also produced history pictures in an international style, highly refined flower paintings, princely portraits, and superb examples of the decorative arts. Featuring 85 paintings – including 15 Vermeers – by 30 artists, about 35 drawings, and smaller selections of tapestries, gilded silver, and Delftware faience, the exhibition will cast the familiar Delft School in a new light – one that emphasizes the roles of the neighboring court at The Hague, and of sophisticated patrons in Delft.
Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum, commented: The Metropolitan is pleased to present this unprecedented exhibition, which – unlike recent monographic surveys of these artists’ works – will examine the paintings of Vermeer and his fellow Delft artists within their proper historical context. By opening a window on the refined sensibilities of the artists and patrons of the 17th-century Delft School, these wonderful paintings and drawings as well as the sumptuous tapestries, gilded silver, and other examples of contemporary decorative arts can be seen in an entirely new light.
Although the paintings of Vermeer are often regarded as the culmination of realism in Dutch art, the exhibition will reveal how earlier artistic developments in Delft paved the way for the achievements of Vermeer and his celebrated colleagues – Pieter de Hooch, Carel Fabritius, Emanuel de Witte, and others. The exhibition focuses on the key decades of the 1650s and 1660s, but approximately one-third of the paintings on view will date from the preceding 50 years.
The exhibition will be organized thematically, with familiar and lesser-known artists exhibited together to illustrate common interests in style or subject matter during different decades in the century. Thus Vermeer’s choice of themes, and especially his approach to space, preoccupation with light, and use of certain compositional schemes will be seen as reflecting not only his own extraordinary powers of observation, but also his sophisticated understanding of current artistic conventions and contemporary trends in taste.
Vermeer will be represented by 15 paintings in New York, including six works that were not seen in the 1995-96 monographic exhibition in Washington. There will be 10 De Hoochs and 16 views of church interiors and other buildings by Emanuel de Witte, Gerard Houckgeest, Hendrick van Vliet, and others, as well as a selection of townscapes by Daniel Vosmaer and Egbert van der Poel. Several artists who briefly worked in Delft – Paulus Potter, Jan Steen, Adam Pynacker – will be represented by outstanding works; however, other painters who have been connected with the city, including so-called De Hooch School painters Pieter Janssens Elinga and Jacobus Vrel, will be excluded because they never worked in Delft or the surrounding area. In addition to the well-known genre scenes, townscapes, and architectural views, the Delft School produced distinctive traditions of landscape and still-life painting, and these will also be included in the exhibition.
Among the highlights of the paintings by Vermeer are such rarely lent masterpieces as The Art of Painting (ca. 1667; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) and The Procuress (1656; Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden). Other works by Vermeer in the exhibition include The Little Street (ca. 1658; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), Girl with the Red Hat (ca. 1665; National Gallery of Art, Washington) and the Metropolitan’s own Allegory of Faith (ca. 1672).
Although they are similarly titled and were likely painted in the same year, De Hooch’s Portrait of a Family in a Courtyard in Delft (ca. 1658; Gemaldegalerie, Vienna) and the more intimate and informal scene depicted in The Courtyard of a House in Delft (1658; National Gallery, London) differ greatly in both subject and style, revealing the artist’s range in appealing to his patrons’ wishes. Two self-portraits by Fabritius as well as his much-loved Goldfinch (1654; Mauritshuis, The Hague) will also be on view.
The drawings and watercolors in the exhibition vary from preparatory sketches to finished drawings depicting views in Delft that are still recognizable today. A selection of delicate flower, shell, and other nature studies will be among the highlights of works on paper. Among the tapestries on view will be an extremely rare horse caparison – a full set of weaving to adorn a horse for parades and other celebratory pageants. On loan from the Royal Armory in Stockholm, the caparison was only used once and thus remains spectacularly vivid and well preserved. Other examples of decorative arts include cabinet bronzes and several pieces of silvergilt illustrating the high level of artistry attained by Delft silversmiths.
Vermeer and the Delft school
Walter Liedtke, with Michiel Plomp and Axel Rüger and
contributions by Reinier Baarsen and others
Catalogue of an exhibition held in 2001 in London (National Gallery) and New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
XIII + 626 pp., 31 cm.
New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and New Haven (Yale University Press) 2001
ISBN 0-300-08848-5 (hardbound)
ISBN 0-87099-973-7 (hardbound)
ISBN 0-87099-974-5 (paperbound)
Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities (indemnity)
The Christian Humann Foundation (contribution toward catalogue)
Doris Duke Fund for Publications