my make believe collection :: 6 :: vermeer

Contributor post by Lisa Solomon

sorry for my lack of posting late. i was traveling - to milan and venice  [for a day] in italy for an exhibition and so all internet frolicking  went by the wayside.

the good news, though, is that i was quite  inspired by my trip. as is so often the case - anytime i leave home i'm  simply smitten with my surroundings and interested in taking in as much  as possible. my mind wanders with possibilities and new sites and  sounds. i was so inspired in fact that today's artist pretty much stems  from my travels. for a few days i took the tram from the apartment i was  staying in to downtown milano and walked passed the amazing duomo and the galleria and all the shops - up corso venezia to the gallery i was installing in.

vermeer, view of delft 1660-1661
 the whole time i was walking through crowds of people and swarms of pigeons i would look up at the grand state of the plaza. i started wondering what it would be like to walk through as the duomo was being built [it was started in the 1400's and took 400 years to complete]. i couldn't help but wonder what people might look like as they walked through these spaces - how did they dress? where would they be going? what would i be wearing in the 15,16,17,18th centuries in these spots? what would i have been doing? [i'm guessing going to the market to get carrots].
when i think about "the masters" and all my years of art history - of all the time i spent looking at classical paintings i think about how i started out in awe of them, then was a little disdainful [sometimes it was hard to relate to a titian or a boticelli], and then fell back in love with some of the sheer inventiveness and beauty [and sometimes horror] of works by giotto, bosch, etc.

vermeer, the mistriss and maid, 1666-67
 when i think, though, about what i might like to own from a historical perspective vermeer always comes to mind. only 34-37 paintings are attributed to him - they seem like rare jewels. his work always seems slightly different than that of his counterparts. to me more introspective, more quiet. perhaps this because he focuses so heavily on domestic interiors [not that others didn't, but really no one else did it the way he did - and there is something about how he freezes a moment and uses light that i find more captivating than many of his counterparts].

vermeer, maid asleep, 1656-57

i love that he was in essence trying to capture something candid. a scene that we most likely wouldn't be privy to. these are not grand portraits or staged moments. he was not making history paintings, or religious paintings [although there are a couple of those in the beginning], or still lives per se [because there are often still lives with in his work]. these are intimate moments - the subjects - mostly women do not know we are present. they are all in their "natural habitats". these are scenes that in the end i don't think are depicted very often in paintings - or art in general [and this holds true to this day].

vermeer, girl reading a letter by an open window, 1657-59
 within these paintings are explorations of class, work, and domesticity. there are nods to opulence and the comparison between the haves and have nots. to me the emotional content in these deceptively quiet works is grand. much grander than the actual scale of them [for they are mostly quite small]. of course there is also sheer skill to behold - the masterful way in which fabric, jewelry, light, tapestries and reflections are rendered.

vermeer, woman in blue reading a letter, 1662-65
 i have been fortunate enough to see a couple of vermeer's works in the frick collection in new york and, cliche as it may sound, i was a changed person after those viewings. it's hard for me to pick just one that i like. many of the elements in his work repeat - woman reading, woman standing by a window... but i think if i was able to take one home it would be the woman in blue reading a letter.

why? well - it does actually feel a bit more raw than some of the others - not as polished - not so full of painting mastery technique [which sometimes i get bored with]. because of that it feels more alive, more contemporary to me. i like the moments of slightly more rushed brushwork. i love those two blue chairs and how they both look as if someone just left from sitting in them - pushing themselves away from the table and exiting hastily. i like that i CAN'T see the window where that magical light is pouring in, and i really enjoy the stark value contrast - the white wall of the upper left that fades into the dark silhouette of a blue cloth with brown scarf in the lower left foreground. this painting isn't cluttered, but it does have subtle details in the upholstery pins on those chairs, or the finial on the map. those things just blow me away.

mostly i love her posture. i can't tell if it's good or bad news. she's frozen in this moment of anticipation. like she's right in the middle of reading. gripping. far enough in to want to keep going and not far enough along to know the outcome. even though we hardly [if ever] read letters anymore i feel like that stance, that emotion, is universal. apparently this is a morning bed jacket she's wearing - so it's not her normal attire emphasizing the voyeuristic nature of the work. i want to know what that letter says. what is racing through her mind.

so there you have it... the first historical piece i would acquire.....

really check out the essential vermeer site if you are at all inclined - it's a WEALTH of knowledge on him and all of his paintings.

until next time... happy art lusting. follow my collection as it grows on pinterest. 

lisa solomon is a mixed media artist who lives in oakland, CA with her husband, young daughter, a one eyed pit bull, a french bulldog, a cross-eyed cat, a 3 legged cat, and many many spools of thread. she moonlights as a college professor, a graphic designer, and is a partner in MODify/d a crafty biz that up/cycles and re/purposes discards from the fashion industry.

Jan Halvarson


Rachel said...

I love Vermeer as well, because I love candid work that seems to capture something or someone mid-movement. We tend to blink and miss these moments, but somehow Vermeer captures them like a camera shot.

In "The Mistress and Maid," I could swear the mistress' earrings are moving, and I could almost hear the tap of her pen on the paper as she sets it down, and in both of the paintings with young women reading the letters, they seem to be holding their breath. There's something tense around their neck and shoulders. I hardly think it's good news, but Vermeer will never let us know.

Thanks so much for sharing! I really got into this post. :)

Kathryn Hansen said...

i love that photograph...very interesting! and i agree with comments on vermeers woman in has way more mystery and intrigue than his other works. plus the subtle use of a limited palette really make that piece very special!

JourneyBeyondSurvival said...

I majored in art history for my BA. Thanks for helping me feel intelligent again. I agree with your favorite, but I don't know if that makes you feel good or not. I like being a bit eclectic myself.

Expats Again said...

Oh, Milan and the Duomo. I visited last year since we are now living in Germany. Isn't the Duomo spectacular? I also have a degree in Art and could while away many days in Europe's museums. Munich has at least 25 alone! Your choice of Vermeer is a good one. His art is so evocative and almost always elicits an emotional reaction.

Suzanne Cranston said...

love this post...! Thank You for the link to Essential Vermeer....!!

lisa solomon said...

rachel--- yes yes - it's true - the movement in the stillness is so vermeer

kathryn -- :)

jourey -- you are most welcome [it's good to feel intelligent] and i'm all about eclectic.

expats - yes - europe is the land of good museums i think :) i wish i had the chance to live in europe for a bit. would be lovely

suzanne -- glad you like