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Visiting the Vermeer Exhibition

By Kate Orr

On February 10th, 2023, the Rijksmuseum opened the largest Vermeer Exhibition to date. It is an impressive feat of effort, collaboration, and dedication.

Walking into the Rijksmuseum, after entering through the beautiful historic gates, you are struck by an impressively grand and contemporary interior. Museum staff direct a bustling stream of people, and excitement is tingling in the air.

A blue ribbon painted onto the floor guides you towards the gallery. Anticipation builds as you walk farther into the museum, until you reach a dark entry room marked by large bold letters reading, VERMEER.

The sight of glowing, vibrant paintings stops your breath, though they are almost swallowed up by the enormous walls.

The Exhibition leads you through Vermeer's work chronologically, beginning with his four earliest pieces. The Procuress is the first that is distinctly recognizable in Vermeer's beloved style.

Each painting seemed to breathe with nuance and atmosphere.

Seeing The Milkmaid up close, you are struck by the luminosity of the paint and depth of her expression. There was a furrow in her brow that I hadn't seen before, a sweetness made poignant by sadness. Vermeer captured her gentle soul, quiet and wistful.

The exhibition winds throughout vast open rooms, allowing for dozens of people to wait turns to see each painting face to face.

Softly glowing against a deep green background, The Girl With the Pearl Earring reaches out and pulls you in. Vermeer's control of contrast, his delicate application, and breadth of expression are all evident in this painting. The slight dominance of the closer eye illuminates her gaze and enhances the illusion of dimension. Forms rise and fall in the light, melting into each other and turning into shadow with beautiful softness.

Similarly to The Girl With the Pearl Earring, The Girl With the Red Hat fixes her eyes upon yours. Her face half hidden in shadow, her eyes almost disappear while the light glimmers on her nose and mouth. This creates an illusion of light and life which gives this tiny painting an immense impact.

According to the Museum, Vermeer used green earth pigment glazed over the shadows to create rich luminosity and unity. His controlled contrast and intentional detail resulted in breathtakingly lifelike scenes. Although his paintings differ in value range, you can see the way he uses value so purposefully to create space and light.

Seeing the collection together, learning so much about Vermeer's paintings and process, leaves a lasting mark. He has inspired millions with his lovely and unique art.

What do you love most about Vermeer's art? (Slide through the images below taken from my trip.)


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