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Posts tagged ‘Dutch Golden Age painting’

Dutch Masters Season Part 3: Johannes Vermeer

There can be no doubt about just how famous this Dutch masterpiece is. While very little is known about the woman featured, how the painting came about, or even about the life of the great Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer, this portrait has so captivated audiences across the world that speculation surrounding the work has inspired novels, films and stage shows. It is of course, Girl with a Pearl Earring (Het Meisje met de Parel). And of course, for every masterpiece, a Norm must stand it its place. Here, as my final instalment of the Dutch Masters Season, is Norm with a Pearl Earring, painted on a little  7″ x 5″ canvas with acrylic.

Norm with a Pearl Earring (acrylic on canvas, 2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

And the original

Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring (Mauritshuis gallery, the Hague)

It’s a simple painting at it’s heart, but the intensity of the colour contrast against a black background with the glint of a pearl and the wide open welcoming eyes of the model have no doubt contributed to making this painting one of the best known portraits in the world. It is by no means the best of Vermeer’s work, an artist who is renowned for his mastery of sumptuous domestic scenes, including startling realistic windows, checkerboard floors and decorative furniture, and scenes of ordinary middle class life in the family home. In fact it was Vermeer who made the ordinary king in his work centuries before the impressionists swept aside grand classical themes for a focus on everyday life. As such, almost all of Vermeer’s paintings appear to be set in the same two rooms in his home in Delft where he worked, showing the same furniture in various arrangements. Nonetheless they show exquisite skill and attention to detail, and collectively have made Vermeer the darling of Dutch art.

Scarlett Johansson in the 2003 movie, Girl with a Pearl Earring

I leave you finally with an image of my favourite Vermeer painting, The Art of Painting, a work which has a truly chequered history which requires no fictionalisation. Set in the same room as most of Vermeer’s paintings, it is nonetheless unique because it appears to feature a self-portrait of the artist, and because it never left the artist’s side. It is thought to have been painted as a showpiece by the artist so that he could use the work to advertise his skill to visiting potential patrons. It is unsurprising therefore that the work is lavish in its detailing – just look at the map on the wall full of creases and the detail in the chandelier. But for being well painted, the items in the work also have their own significance. It is widely thought that Vermeer, a Catholic, painted the work as a allegorical stand against the new protestant rule in the Netherlands. As such, the map of the new Netherlands is creased and torn, suggesting divide and unrest in the nation, while the absence of candles in the chandelier, adorned as it is with the double headed eagle – symbolic of the former Catholic Habsburg rulers of Holland – represents the suppression of the Catholic faith and the darkness which had consequently settled over the land. The girl is the Muse of History, Clio, evidenced by her laurel wreath, holding a trumpet (depicting fame) and a book by Thucydides.

Of even greater significance is perhaps what happened after Vermeer’s death. First, the painting was party to an outrageous act of fraud, as the name of Vermeer’s great rival, Pieter de Hooch, was forged onto the work with the result that it was not recognised as a Vermeer work until 19860. Secondly, in the second world war, after the Nazi invasion of Austria, the work attracted the attention of top Nazi officials – Hermann Göring attempted to acquire the painting, but his efforts were blocked by Hitler himself who acquired the work for his own amassed collection of stolen European masterpieces. Shortly thereafter, during the war, the painting undertook numerous perilous journeys as the Nazis moved it from place to place in an attempt to keep it safe, finally ending up, and being discovered in, a salt mine near Munich. It was presented to the Austrian Government by the Allies in 1946, happily still in one piece, where it has remained ever since.

Vermeer, The Art of Painting (c.1666) (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

See you in Amsterdam…

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2005-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Dutch Masters Season Part 2: Frans Hals

When I told my mother that I was going to paint a series of Norms based on classical paintings, the first suggestion she made was The Laughing Cavalier by Dutch golden age artist, Frans Hals. I thought she was mad! Having seen the portrait on a trip to The Wallace Collection in London some years ago, my lasting memory is being overawed by the intricacy of the portrait, in particular the extravagant embroidery on the “Cavalier’s” sumptuous outfit, and the skill with which Frans Hals had captured the abundance of lace around his neck and cuff. No way could I paint this in small Norm reproduction I thought. But then, when I painted a Norm based on Velazquez with all its lavish silk clothing, followed by a Doisneau inspired Norm painting with the intricacy of that darned complex Opera Garnier, I realised that the Cavalier may not be such a feat after all.

And so, excited by the challenge I had set myself, and all the more enthusiastic in the knowledge that a Laughing Cavalier Norm would make a suitably ravishing addition to my Dutch Masters collection, I attempted to recreate Frans Hals masterpiece on a mere 8″x10″ canvas. And here is the result.

Laughing Cavalier Norm (after Frans Hals) (acrylic on canvas, 2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

The title of the original work was undoubtedly not The Laughing Cavalier, but the portrait became known as such around the time it first arrived in Britain in the 19th Century. It was thought to be unusual for a portrait of its age (1624) to feature a smiling figure – usually formal portraits were more serious and austere. But this gentleman, while not actually laughing, is certainly jolly, if a little haughty, and his curled up moustache pronounces the smiling contours of his expression. Lucky then that the moustache aids in the creation of a smiley disposition, because with no mouth, my Norm would certainly be all the more somber without it.

Frans Halls, The Laughing Cavalier (1624, The Wallace Collection, London)

English: Frans Hals, "The Laughing Cavali...

Image via Wikipedia

It is also doubtful, incidentally, whether the Laughing Cavalier, asides from lacking in laughter, was even a cavalier. It is said he was most likely a wealthy civilian, perhaps also a military man as suggested by a glimpse of the hilt of his sword. His richly embroidered clothing is aptly demonstrative of his wealth. There are many emblems in the embroidery, allegedly signifying “the pleasures and pains of love” through bees, arrows, flaming cornucopiae, lover’s knots and tongues of fire, while an obelisk-like shape is meant to signify strength and Mercury’s cap and caduceus signifiers of fortune. Meanwhile the turning pose and low viewpoint are shared by a number of similar portraits by Frans Hals.

Whoever this jocular gentleman was doesn’t really matter. There is certainly a power in his expression, through the sparkle of his eyes and confidence of his smile which continues to captivate today. It was often said, when the portrait first rose to fame in Britain, that the Laughing Cavalier’s eyes followed you around the room. They certainly seem to do so – even a digital reproduction on my computer screen seems to come alive, almost bemused at it watches me fussing around the room and clicking away on my computer. No wonder then that this painting has taken its worthy place in the gallery of Dutch masterpieces. It’s a work which breaks the boundaries of formal portraiture, packed with personality, symbolism, and a smiling face which exudes personality to this day.  Tot morgen…Vaarwel.