The recent arrival of Vermeer’s masterpiece, Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, has created quite a buzz in the L.A. art world. The painting will be on view at the Getty Museum for only a short time (through March 31, 2013). Then she heads home to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum just in time for the museum’s grand reopening after a 10-year renovation.
Before coming to Los Angeles, the Women in Blue visited two other cities (Shanghai and São Paulo) on her historic world tour. Lucky for us, the Rijksmuseum chose the Getty Museum as the painting’s only North American stop. Here are 5 reasons why you should see the Woman in Blue while you can:
1. Vermeer is a Master: Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer is one of the world’s most famous painters. But he didn’t receive worldwide recognition until 200 years after his death. Now he is considered one of the most influential painters of the 17th Century Dutch Golden Age — an era that produced many gifted artists including Rembrandt (see Culture Spectator’s review for an in-depth discussion of Vermeer and his contemporaries).
2. Vermeer Paintings are Rare: There are only 35 known Vermeer paintings in the world. About a dozen U.S. museum collections have Vermeers, but none of the museums are in California. So for this brief time, we can actually drive, not fly, to see a Vermeer painting. And with the price of plane tickets these days, that is huge, especially if you have kids.
3. It’s Magic: You have to see Woman in Blue in person to truly understand the sheer magic of Vermeer’s artistic genius, especially his skill at illuminating light and color on the painted canvas. When I saw the painting, I couldn’t get over the realistic quality of the morning sunlight pouring into the young woman’s room, and the shimmering intensity of the shades of blue in her bed shirt (a phenomena known as Vermeer Blue). Even more remarkable, Vermeer created these dazzling effects without leaving any noticeable brushstrokes.
4. Time Travel: Vermeer’s intimate paintings of Dutch domestic life take us to another place and time. The Woman in Blue gives modern viewers a vivid sense of what it was like to live in 17th Century Holland. A time before the instantaneous communication of cell phones, emails, and text messages – a time when hand delivered, handwritten letters ruled. One look at the Woman in Blue’s expression as she reads the letter, suggests that every word, of every personal correspondence, counted in a way that our text-obsessed children can only imagine.
5. It’s a Mystery: Only Vermeer knows the true story behind the Woman in Blue. As of yet, no one has been able to find information about who the young woman is, who wrote the letter she is reading, or what the letter is about (although many think it’s a love letter). These lingering questions make the portrait all the more compelling. The enigmatic expression and unknown identity of Vermeer’s, Girl with a Pearl Earring, inspired a popular novel and movie. And thanks to another Dutch special loan, now you can see Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in California as well at the de Young Museum, San Francisco (through June 3, 2013).
Woman in Blue Reading A Letter, Johannes Vermeer. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. On loan from the City of Amserdam (A. van der Hoop Bequest).
Girl with the Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer. The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, Bequest of Arnoldus des Tombe.