Twenty-two years ago, the National Gallery of Art brought almost two dozen works by the 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer to Washington. Hundreds of thousands of people lined up for hours to see them. The exhibit was a smash hit despite a blizzard and two government shutdowns.
On Sunday, the National Gallery opens a new Vermeer exhibit. Here are some thoughts from curator Arthur Wheelock Jr.
“Most of the people he depicts are men and women doing things we could see ourselves doing in our own lives: reading a letter, playing an instrument, looking at a globe or maps.
“Something about the way they act in their lives and what he depicts makes them seem very important. And we have that same association to ourselves: 'Oh, I read a letter, I'm important too.'
“Light in Vermeer is fascinating. And it is often daylight, through a window. He's shifting light, he's making a painting.
“Men play a sort of subsidiary role in the exhibition, somewhat the butt of humor, they're not always behaving.
“Vermeer is a good Instagram artist, because his images are so distinct.
“‘Woman with a Balance’: It's a woman standing in the corner of a room holding a balance, having it come to rest... but she’s standing in front of the Last Judgement. So, she stands between worldly treasures and the eventual judgment she knows will come to all of us. It's an incredibly important painting for understanding how we ought to behave in life.
“Once you've seen a Vermeer, it becomes part of you. It becomes part of who you are. And that's one of the wonders of this artist.”
'Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting' has already played to massive crowds in Paris and Dublin. Washington is the last stop for the exhibition. It will be at the National Gallery through January 21.