Everyone needs some difficult yet attainable goals. Among mine is to see all 37 paintings by the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer in person. To date, I’ve seen 21 of the 37.
Vermeer’s “A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals” is the only Vermeer painting currently in private hands, and is one of three which is not usually available for viewing to the general public (the other two being The Music Lesson, which is part of the Royal collection at Buckingham Palace and The Concert, which was stolen from Boston’s Gardner Museum in March of 1990 and is the most valuable currently stolen painting in the world).
But my mission is in luck – “A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals” will be on display at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia from June 1, 2010 until September 1, 2010. The Chrysler, whose collection also includes works by Dutch masters such as Peter Paul Reubens and Anthony van Dyck, also happens to be free to the public.
Now recognized as one of the greatest of the Dutch masters and nearly as famed as the giant among them, Rembrandt, Vermeer was only a modestly successful genre painter whose reputation did not go far beyond his hometown of Delft. Rediscovered in the 19th century, works such as The Milkmaid and The Girl With the Pearl Earring have helped make Vermeer one of the world’s most famous artists. His extraordinary renditions of domestic scenes in the pointillé method are examples of the highest achievements of the Dutch Golden Age.
One of my favorite of his works, “Officer and Laughing Girl” (one of three Vermeers at the Frick Collection here in New York) is a superb example of Vermeer’s style. Note the officer’s chair and the half-opened window at odd angles to the rear wall. Note the multiple gradations of shadow upon the map. It is nearly impossible to see in the image here, but in Vermeer’s work the objects take on some of the color of the adjacent objects, helping to create a moment where what is an occupied space is a united scene.
This summer’s special exhibition at the Chrysler is a great opportunity to witness that mastery in a rarely seen work. And I look forward to making “A Woman Seated at the Virginals” number 22 among Vermeer’s works that I have witnessed.
There is no happiness without knowledge. But knowledge of happiness is unhappy; for knowing ourselves happy is knowing ourselves passing through happiness, and having to, immediately at once, leave it behind. To know is to kill, in happiness as in everything. Not to know, though, is not to exist.