New Yorkers now have a rare opportunity to see examples of the golden age of Dutch painting, including Jan Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring (ca. 1665), on tour from a major Dutch institution.
"Vermeer, Rembrandt and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis" (through Jan. 19, 2014) comprises 15 paintings and goes on view today at New York's Frick Collection. The paintings are traveling while the Mauritshuis undergoes an expansion.
"America has something like a third of the known Vermeer paintings, which number about three dozen," Ian Wardropper told A.i.A. at a press preview on Monday, standing in front of Girl with a Pearl Earring, which hangs alone in the museum's Oval Room. The Frick itself owns three paintings by the master, which are grouped together in the museum's West Gallery for this occasion. But the relatively high number of Vermeers in U.S. collections didn't dampen Wardropper's enthusiasm for the canvas, which shows a beautiful young woman in a turban, looking over her shoulder at the viewer, a luscious pearl earring hanging from her earlobe.
"One almost can't see it, it's so familiar" from reproductions, he said. "But when it came out of the shipping crate it was so alive. It stands up to all the reproduction, maybe because of its simplicity."
The rest of the paintings, all hanging together in the museum's East Gallery, span portraiture, still life, landscape and genre work. Alongside their blockbuster compatriots are canvases by lesser-known masters Pieter Claesz, Jacob van Ruisdael and Carel Fabritius. Two of those paintings were especially impressive to Wardropper.
Fabritius's The Goldfinch (1654) shows, in almost trompe-l'oeil fashion, a house pet chained to a small wooden perch hanging on a wall. "It's a dream of a picture," Wardropper said. (By coincidence, Donna Tartt's hotly anticipated novel The Goldfinch, featuring the Fabritius on its cover, comes out today.)
Another favorite is Ruisdael's View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds (1670-75), showing the Dutch city in the distance. In the foreground are strips of fabric being bleached in the sun.
"We have only one landscape in this show, but this one is fantastic," Wardropper said, citing the way parallel lines lead the eye through the painting into the distance. "This painting is all about the flatness of the Dutch landscape," he said.
The Mauritshuis previously sent a group of its paintings on the road to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1984, which is the last time the Girl with a Pearl Earring was in the U.S. Mauritshuis director Emilie Gordenker explained to A.i.A. why the Frick, a much smaller venue, was chosen for this visit. "Many people know the Girl with a Pearl Earring," she said, "but not the Mauritshuis. There are so many similarities between our museums in terms of their intimacy and small scale and domestic atmosphere. So it made the most sense to send the paintings to our sister institution."
For just the third time in its history, according to a museum press representative, the Frick is offering timed tickets. But for more spontaneous souls, there will be general admission to the show from 10 to 11 each morning, and philanthropist Agnes Gund has sponsored three free Friday evenings during the show.