Vermeer – just Vermeer. The surname alone of this great master from Delft is enough to cause excitement in the art world and to make art lovers flock to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The sheer number of twenty-eight of the thirty-six or thirty-seven Vermeer’s paintings (depending on which experts you agree with) is mind boggling. Never before have so many works been seen together, not even in his own lifetime.
Born and raised in Delft, much of Johannes Vermeer’s (1632-1675) life remains a mystery. We don’t know where he received his training, there are no sketches, prints or drawings and in total scholars think he only painted about sixty paintings.The biggest collection ever was amassed by Vermeer’s patron Pieter van Ruijven, but new research has thrown new light on that view. It turns out to be Maria de Knuijt, Van Ruijven’s wife who is responsible for this. This makes sense for it was the task of women to decorate the house with furnishings which included the paintings on the wall. Besides that, De Knuijt was only nine years older than Vermeer and growing up in the same neighbourhood.
De Knuijt bought at least twenty works from Vermeer and when she died her daughter Magdalena inherited them, only to leave them to her husband Jacob Dissius after her death. In the inventory list The Milkmaid was found in the kitchen and two others even hung in the cellar. When Dissius died twenty-one works by Vermeer were listed, fourteen of which will now be together again in this exhibition.
It is also striking that when Vermeer made the switch from historical and biblical themes to the genre paintings with women in interiors, De Knuijt started buying his work. It makes you wonder whether she might be the woman featuring in the painting. But let’s not get carried away, we just have to wait for that piece of information to surface.
In the meantime we have this beautiful exhibition of Vermeers work with these twenty-eight marvellous works. My favourite was the Woman in Blue Reading a Letter from the Rijksmuseum, but having now seen the Lady writing a Letter with her Maid from the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, I am falling for that one as well.
Without sounding too greedy, but why not all the other paintings as well? Well, for various reasons. For instance, since The Concert was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in 1990, we have lost track of that one. The Music Lesson is in too bad a condition to travel from the Royal Collection in Windsor to Amsterdam.
A Maid asleep and Study of a Young Woman are bequeathed to The Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York under the condition they never leave the museum. The three works from the Frick Collection were also tied to New York, but the current renovation Frick Museum, opened a loop hole allowing the pictures to travel. Three Vermeers which were forbidden to leave the house were all of a sudden available to travel and immediately the Rijksmuseum started thinking of organising a Vermeer exhibition.
And what a success this is! With already a quarter of a million tickets sold, the exhibition is in fact sold out already, but I am convinced more time slots will be added so keep your eye on the website of the Rijksmuseum if you haven’t bought your ticket yet! Wendy Fossen 13th February 2023
Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam continues until 4th June.
Click here for Wendy Fossen’s review of Jacob Vrel
Click here for Michael Hasted’s review of Vermeer’s Delft