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Historic Display of Vermeer’s Paintings Planned by the Rijksmuseum by Tristan Vanheuckelom

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Historic Display of Vermeer’s Paintings Planned by the Rijksmuseum

Art lovers worldwide have no small occasion for rejoicing. On Thursday, September 8th, the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands announced that it will host the largest exhibit of Johannes Vermeer’s oeuvre. Home to only four of Vermeer’s paintings, the Rijksmuseum, starting early next year, will display 27 out of 35 extant works under its roof—among which include the imperishable The Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Milkmaid

In Amsterdam, visitors will soon be able to admire Vermeer’s luminous art in the—at least in size—grandest museum that the Dutch have to offer. A description provided by the Rijksmuseum notes Vermeer’s “tranquil, introverted indoor scenes, his unprecedented use of bright, colorful light and his convincing illusionism.” 

In Thursday’s announcement of the exhibit, the museum said it will be the first time in over a quarter-century that the aforementioned two paintings—his most famous— will be united in the same building. The last time this occurred was at a 1996 show at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, traditionally the custodian of the Girl with a Pearl Earring, which it is lending to the Rijksmuseum.

Through the use of cutting edge infrared technology, the Rijksmuseum discovered that the bare white wall behind its own The Milkmaid did not always appear thus. A recent scan of the work reveals a sketch underneath the paint, outlining a wooden rack filled with jugs and, in the bottom right corner, what appears to be a basket with glowing coals for the drying of baby clothes. 

The finding indicates that Vermeer approached his art more meticulously than previously thought. His scenes of domesticity, far from spontaneously captured in the moment, are instead works borne out of much consideration in terms of their composition.

With his trademark eye for simplicity, Vermeer chose for the white wall to be unadorned, thereby evoking a feeling of serenity—a characteristic of his paintings for which Vermeer is still treasured more than 350 years later. 

Since Vermeer’s paintings are generally considered the most prized items in every museum collection, his work is only rarely lent out. That the Rijksmuseum can promote its upcoming Vermeer exhibit as the largest to be ever held, is partly due to the Frick Collection in New York. The museum has pledged to lend out its own three Vermeers. These have never been shown together outside of New York since the museum’s acquisition of them, over a century ago. 

The paintings were allowed to be temporarily removed only because the Frick is under renovation. Once finished, it is highly unlikely the trio will ever see international travel again. 

Vermeer, now considered one of the finest painters from the Dutch Golden Age, only achieved moderate success in his hometown of Delft and in neighboring Hague during his lifetime. Never a wealthy man, after his death his wife and children were left to foot the bills he had accumulated. He fell into obscurity until his rediscovery around 1860, which eventually garnered him his status as one of the greatest painters of his time, only to be surpassed by Rembrandt.

The exhibit starts on February 10th, and can be attended until June 4th. 

Tristan Vanheuckelom writes on film, literature, and comics for various Dutch publications. He is an avid student of history, political theory, and religion, and is a News Writer at The European Conservative.