Friday, October 25, 2013

Jill Krementz covers Masterpieces of Dutch Painting

The front entrance to the Frick Collection at 1 East 70th Street and its garden visible as you walk east from Fifth Avenue. The daisies are in full bloom.
Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals
Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis
The Frick Museum, timed ticket admission
October 22, 2013 - January 19, 2014

Donna Tartt, "Girl with a Pug named Pongo," photographed by Jill Krementz in New York City on March 15th, 1997.
Henry Clay Frick's admiration for Dutch Golden Age pictures makes The Frick Collection a fitting setting for this exhibition of extraordinary seventeenth- century Dutch paintings from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Organized by the Frick's Assistant curator, Margaret Iacono, the fifteen paintings on display are among the most important in the Mauritshuis's holdings. Johannes Vermeer's celebrated Girl with a Pearl Earring is the sole work on view in the Oval Room.

Paintings by Frans Hals, Pieter Claesz, Rembrandt, Gerard ter Borch, Carel Fabritius, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruisdael, Nicolaes Maes, and Adriaen Coorte can be seen in the adjacent East Gallery.

Visitors are also encouraged to view the three Vermeer paintings in the Frick's permanent collection, which are grouped together in the West Gallery.

For the first time in the history of the Frick there is a dedicated gift shop for the exhibition with assorted merchandise, including the handsome exhibition catalogue, pearl earrings and necklaces, posters, related books, and even a T-shirt — all available for purchase.

It is also the first time ever that a painter and a writer have, with a single title, made their American debuts on the exact same day: That would be artist Carel Fabritius (The Goldfinch) and the novelist Donna Tartt, whose novel by the same name is based on a fictional theft of the painting. That is synchronicity.
Ian Wardropper, Director of The Frick Collection, with Emilie E.S. Gordenker, Director of the Mauritshuis.

Ms. Gordenker told us that after the Mauritshuis was finished with "her two-year face-lift," she hoped she could welcome us all to "the city palace, the jewel box of Dutch museums."

"It's very important for us that people know where these paintings live. But we're happy in the interim to have some of our masterpieces on view here at our sister institution. It's a match made in heaven."
Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675)
Girl with a Pearl Earring, c. 1665
Oil on canvas

Purchased by the art collector Arnoldus des Tombe in 1881 for the astoundingly low price of two guilders plus a buyer's premium of thirty cents, Vermeer's Girl was subsequently displayed at the Mauritshuis and officially entered the museum's collection upon des Tombe's death in 1902.
Sometimes mistaken for a portrait, Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, an oil on canvas painted about 1665, belongs to a distinctly Dutch subcategory of portraiture known as the tronie, a type of picture popularized in the 1630s by Rembrandt and other artists.

Tronies represented stock characters and depicted idealized faces or exaggerated expressions, with subjects frequently sporting exotic costumes. Unlike commissioned portraits, tronies were sold on the open market.

Although the girl's features may have been inspired by a live model, we have no idea who she was, and Vermeer would not have felt her identity relevant to our enjoyment of the work.
The blue and yellow cloths tied to form her turban-like head wrap and even the conspicuous, shimmering pearl hint that the sitter is a product of the artist's imagination. These props most likely were meant to convey an air of the exotic. Visitors to the exhibition will have the opportunity to consider the three paintings by Vermeer in the Frick's permanent collection, which are grouped together in the West Gallery in honor of the Girl's visit.

Henry Clay Frick purchased the pictures between 1901 and 1919 (though none was quite the bargain realized by des Tombe). Unlike the Girl, the Frick Vermeers are genre scenes. Despite their differing subject matter, all four works demonstrate the master's consummate rendering of light and tantalize us with questions about his subjects' identities, their relationships, and the circumstances in which they are shown.
A view of one of the galleries.
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669)
Tronie of a Man with a Feathered Beret
c. 1635–40
Oil on panel

Although sometimes mistaken for a self-portrait, this picture was not intended to represent a specific person. Head studies known as tronies allowed artists to freely experiment with facial expressions, costumes, and lighting effects.

Like his contemporaries, Rembrandt often employed his own features when creating these studies, which were sold on the open market.

This eclectic costume is not indicative of seventeenth-century Dutch fashion but instead represents the whimsical product of Rembrandt's imagination.
Adriaen Coorte
Still Life with Five Apricots, 1704
Oil on canvas

Unlike many of his contemporaries who painted still lifes filled with precious wares and expensive delicacies, Coorte preferred common objects and simple compositions.

In a possible nod to the vanitas genre, many of his pictures feature perishable items such as are seen here. A speckling of insect holes apparent on two of the crisp leaves also suggests this theme.
Frans Hals (1581/1585–1666)
Portrait of Aletta Hanemans (1606–1653), 1625
Oil on canvas

Aletta's wedding ring and bridal gloves underscore the connubial theme of this portrait and that of her husband Jacob. Her silk garments, trimmed with expensive lace and gold brocade, were, like those of her husband, inspired by Spanish fashions.

Such meticulous detail is typical of Hals's early work. A comparison with the three later portraits by Hals on view in the West Gallery demonstrates the artist's evolving technique from the refined approach seen here to a looser painting style.
Wendy Goodman, the Design Editor of New York Magazine, which may become a bimonthly according to various reports. When I asked Wendy how she felt about this news she hadn't even heard it. As she left she said, "I better start looking for another job. Or ... I am going to volunteer to be a guard so I can stand all day and stare at the "Girl with a Pearl Earring."
Gerard ter Borch (1617–1681)
Woman Writing a Letter, c. 1655
Oil on panel

Ter Borch's fashionably attired subject resembles his sister and frequent model Gesina. The demure lady has pushed aside the carpet covering the table in order to have a smooth surface on which to write.

Since beds were found in all rooms in Dutch residences at this time, the bed here is unlikely to allude to licentious behavior. The large pearl the woman wears may corroborate this as pearls were often interpreted as symbols of virginity.
Pieter Claesz
Vanitas Still Life, 1630
Oil on panel

The vanitas image is a reminder of life's brevity and the worthlessness of material objects. Nevertheless, one cannot resist savoring Claesz's rendering of the glittering timepiece with its glossy ribbon, the reflections on the snuffed oil lamp and overturned glass, the brittle pages, and the jagged fractures and crevices of the skull.
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669)
Susanna, 1636
Oil on panel

Rembrandt, not surprisingly, aspired to history painting, and his poignant Susanna of 1636 is an example of his brilliance in this genre.

While historical paintings were commonly presented on large supports, Rembrandt opted to render this subject in a small-scale format.

Unfolding before us is a gripping scene from the story of Susanna, who is spied on by a pair of Babylonian elders, as described in the book of Daniel (13:19─23).
Susanna is portrayed as an attractive young woman, although her dimpled body is unidealized, as the indentations made by her stockings on her calves make clear.

Looking toward us—either in search of assistance or in fear—with swollen, tear-filled eyes and reddened nose, she desperately tries to shield her naked body.
Art critic John Zeaman thought the Girl with a Pearl Earring looked a bit forlorn and lonesome hanging in a gallery all by herself.

An excerpt from his subsequent online review for New Jersey's The Record:

She is all by herself in the oval shaped gallery, this girl in the headdress, looking back over her shoulder with tenderness and regret. Her lips are slightly parted. The whites of her eyes stand out vividly against the dark background. And there, hanging from her left ear, is a luminous teardrop pearl that almost looks too sophisticated for one so young.

She is Vermeer's 'Girl with a Pearl Earring,' a painting often referred to as the Dutch Mona Lisa. The two have in common their mysterious origins and cunningly ambiguous expressions. People who have read the book and seen the movie starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth may think of Vermeer's subject as Griet, the alluring servant girl invented by author Tracy Chevalier. But that is 100 percent fiction. What is true is that she has become that rare thing in high art – a painting with a popular audience.

In truth, the small canvas might have been better displayed with its contemporaries. She looks a little forlorn behind her glass shield in the Frick's grand wood-paneled gallery. But isolation is often the price of celebrity.
The catalogue is displayed on a pedestal in one of the galleries.
Pearls appear in eight paintings by Vermeer, including the Frick's Mistress and Maid.

As no real pearl of this size has been documented, Vermeer's model likely wore a glass drop varnished to look like a true pearl. The piece may also be the product of Vermeer's imagination.
A press conference was held in museum's Music Room where Ian Wardropper welcomed us to the Frick. That's Emilie Gordenker in lower left hand corner stealing a look at the audience.
Three FREE Friday evenings a month (6-9 p.m.) at the Frick will be open to the public, thanks to the generosity of Agnes Gund. The first Fridays will be reserved for members. Adrian Dannatt is an artist, art critic, writer, editor and journalist.
View of a wall in one of the galleries.

Left: The Old Lacemaker, c. 1655, by Nicholas Maes; The Oyster Eater, c.1658-60, by Jan Steen.
Right: Woman Writing a Letter, c. 1655, by Gerard ter Borch.
The Mauritshuis, located in The Hague, contains more than eight hundred Dutch and Flemish paintings made between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries.

Of particular renown is its concentration of pictures created during the seventeenth century in the Northern and Southern Netherlands (modern-day Netherlands and Belgium).

Originally the home of Johan Maurits (1604–1679), Count of Nassau-Siegen, who served as governor of the Dutch colony in Brazil, the city palace was designed for him by Jacob van Campen (1596– 1657) and constructed between 1633 and 1644.

Ms. Gordenker said that the exhibit would travel next to Bologna (the Palazzo Fava) for its final appearance before returning to The Hague.
Carel Fabritius (1622–1654)
The Goldfinch, 1654
Oil on panel

Fabritius uses a minimum of quick strokes to portray the house pet's downy body. Such expert manipulation of paint to suggest form and texture may have been assimilated from Rembrandt, with whom he studied.

Whatever the panel's initial purpose—possibly a component of a birdcage or a cover for an encased painting—the little bird chained to his feed box is a masterpiece of trompe l'oeil illusionism.

Vermeer— like Fabritius, a resident of Delft—was highly influenced by the artist's pristine lighting and composed tranquility.
Closer view of Fabritius's The Goldfinch, so you can see it side by side with Donna Tartt's wonderful new novel that I can hardly put down it is so good.
Jan Steen (1626–1679)
As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young, c. 1665
Oil on canvas

Steen uses what is ostensibly a celebration of the baptism of the baby at center as an occasion to demonstrate the effects of errant adult behavior on impressionable youngsters.

An elderly woman holds a sheet of paper containing the words to a popular proverb, referenced in the painting's title.

Steen playfully portrays himself as the figure teaching the boy to smoke.

Thematic symbols punctuate the composition: the bagpiper suggests the "copycat piping" mentioned in the proverb (the instrument connoted indolence and debauchery), the foot warmer and oysters have erotic associations, and the parrot implies mimicry.
Detail from As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young.
A crowd gathers around Jan Steen's As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young.
Art critic Jason Kauffman.

"If you've been to the Mauritshuis in The Hague, you probably remember Vermeer's View of Delft. But it's his Girl with a Pearl that gets a room to herself here, cordoned off like the Mona Lisa.

" You can get a better look at the works by Rembrandt, Hals, Steen and a few others in the next room, and see how they stack up against Frick's own collection in his grand gallery. The robber baron would have loved this show so much, he would have barred the door to make sure none of the Mauritshuis pictures could leave!"
Susan Galassi, Senior Curator at The Frick, with Robin Cembalest, Executive Editor of Martin Mullin and Ian Wardropper. Mr. Mullin is a historian and an artist. He will be hosting an "open studio" (all are invited) on Tuesday, November 12, 5.30-7.30 ("after the Mercury retrograde") in his studio in Hell's Kitchen, 549 West 52nd Street , 9th Floor, where you can see his abstract paintings.
Margaret Iacono, talks with visitors in one of the galleries. Ms. Iacono, the youngest person ever to be appointed a Frick Curator, organized the exhibition.

Maggie's dress is a nod to the the man who assembled, in the seventeenth century, the majority of the masterpieces in the Mauritshuis's legendary collection: William V, Prince of Orange-Nassau (the House of Orange), the last Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic.
Rob and Nick Carter's Transforming Still Life Painting (2012), a film inspired by an Old Master painting, is on view in the Multimedia Room, located off the east side of the Garden Court.

The artists use Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder's Vase with Flowers in a Window (a 1618 painting in the Mauritshuis's collection but too fragile to be included in the traveling exhibition) as their inspiration.

Bosschaert's famous image features a vase of flowers displayed on a windowsill, behind which a blue sky and landscape are visible.

The three-hour film is projected on a computer screen surrounded by a simple dark frame similar to the frames favored by the Dutch during the seventeenth century.

You probably won't have three hours but it is fun to watch the the part when the snail gradually crawls into view and then inches its way (at a you-know-what pace) across "the canvas."

Over the course of three hours, Bosschaert's image changes gradually before our eyes: flowers wither, insects devour the tender foliage, and darkness descends over the distant mountains and river.
Heidi Rosenau, Head of Media Relations & Marketing.
Kate Gerlough, head of retail and visitor services, has been at the Frick for 22 years.

This is the first time the museum has had a dedicated gift store for an exhibition. The larger gift store, with books and unrelated merchandise, is still around the corner from this one.

This satellite store is going to make a fortune during this blockbuster. And if they want to increase their sales even more, they'll be selling Donna Tartt's best seller along with those pearl earrings.
Various gift items on sale in the gift shop ranging from mugs to eyeglass cases and notepads.
Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis features thirty-five masterpieces of portraiture, landscape, genre painting, history, and still-life.

Each painting is illuminated by a text about its context and significance. Essays provide an overview of the extraordinary world of the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic, explore the history and future of the Mauritshuis building and collection, offer an in-depth look at Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, and chronicle fascinating conservation treatments and technical research undertaken by the museum.
Authors are Mauritshuis staff members Director Emilie E. S. Gordenker, Senior Curator Quentin Buvelot, Curator Lea van der Vinde, Curator Ariane van Suchtelen, and Head of Paintings Conservation Petria Noble. Lynne Federle Orr, former Curator in Charge of European Art at the de Young /Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the tour's first U.S. venue, also contributed an essay. The book was published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Del Monico Books, Prestel (hardcover, 144 pages; $34.95. Member Price: $31.46).
Lovely canvas tote bags for $30 each. Girl on Tour T-shirt; $28 each
Ladies Fit: S/M/L/XL
Regular Fit: S/M/L/XL/XXL
Pearl encrusted pens: $5 each. Wooden jigsaw puzzles scarves, mirrors and pens embedded with pearls, and eyeglass cases with a mirror to see how you look if you try on the jewelry.
Eyeglass case with a pretty silk cloth inside to keep your glasses nice and clean.
I purchased one of these pretty little compact mirrors for $20. With the cold winds coming it will be useful when my eyes get full of tears and a contact lens needs to be replaced.
Exhibition postcards $1.00 each; set of 15 postcards available for $12.
Fresh water pearl necklaces, bracelets and earrings range from $200-$400.

Ahem. You wont forget that pearls were often interpreted as symbols of virginity. But then again we may be denizens of New Amsterdam, but we are not living in The Hague.
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved. Contact Jill Krementz here.