What are the chances you can see something as grand as the Grand Canyon? It’s been there for millions of years, hasn’t moved. Our family planned a trip and yes, because it never moved we easily found it in AZ. We have been filled with wonder visiting it several times. What are the chances that one will climb a pyramid in Mexico? It hasn’t moved either in almost a thousand years. So secure in the knowledge it would be there, we scheduled a trip so that our daughters would have such an opportunity to take in a view of the valley of Mexico after climbing hundreds of steps. There are wonderful things to see that are always there, that we can schedule to see on our own time. Then, what are the chances we will see another rocket launch from FL? Now that hangs in the balance.
And here’s one that has happened only once. What are the chances that over 30 of Johannes Vermeer’s paintings would be assembled together in one place, considering his total production was only about 36 paintings that we know about? Don’t know Vermeer? He painted Girl with a Pearl Earring//. Back in 1995 a rare occurrence took place. Over 30 of Vermeer’s paintings were assembled at the National Gallery of Art. Now when you consider that in the month of December of 1995 our government shut down including the NGA, it seemed this amazing event in the art world just might not happen. I couldn’t believe that such an effort was in danger of never happening. As soon as the exhibit opened, the National Gallery of Art closed its doors. However, Alexander Haig came to the rescue finding private funding to assure this never before assembled exhibit could be viewed and attended by thousands. It almost wasn’t meant to be. But it was.
When I learned that this event was to happen, and considering my sister and brother lived in the DC area, I knew I had to take our daughters to visit Uncle Scip and Aunt A between Christmas and New Year’s. My husband encouraged me to take the trip. We planned to make it happen.
And it did. One day between Christmas and New Years, Aunt ‘gette, got everyone up early, very early from sister’s house in VA, as she knew the lines would be long. My daughters, sister, brother, sister-in-law, nieces and I arrived around 6:00 in the morning with the museum scheduled to open around 10:00. It was cold, very cold. My sister dressed me in winter silks, also known as long underwear. The girls borrowed their cousins’ winter gear. Aunt ‘gette did good, because when we arrived, although the line was already long, at least we could see the door. We made “line buddies.” The fellow in front of us, a grad student from NYU, had driven down. The temperature was in the -teens. Brrr…it was so cold. The cousins spent the cold hours together visiting.
And then we were ushered in, only a certain number at a time. My parents had had an art book of Jan Vermeer’s paintings on the coffee table or the book shelf. As a young girl, I had spent hours leafing through the pages over and over again loving the human quality captured in each painting. I also noticed every painting had a light source. So as I remembered that book, I was amazed that at that moment in time, on that day in December of 1995, I was really viewing the majority of his works assembled together here at the NGA, and not collected in a book. I was surprised by the size of Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, 63 x 56 inches, much bigger than I had imagined. And similarly I was surprised by the size of The Girl with a Red Hat, 9 x 7 inches, much smaller than I ever visualized. In fact it was painted on wood and not on canvas.
It was warm inside the gallery, and the light captured in each of Vermeer’s paintings made everything warmer! Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, The Milkmaid, A Woman Holding a Balance, The Astronomer, The Geographer and A Lady Standing at the Virginals were all there depicting light pouring in from a left hand window. Some works had no windows but suggested the presence of light as in The Lacemaker. As the young girl concentrates on her work, she is dependent on good light to complete it. Her yellow jacket is bright from reflecting the light source.
I have no favorites. Each painting delivers not only a human sensitivity and understanding of its subject, but also shows an artist who was aware of the scientific aids of his time, aids that made colors brighter, fields of focus more clear or obscured. One has the sense that this artist is not just painting but also practicing the art of science using the science and mathematics available to him at the time: lenses, mirrors, the camera obscura, calculated vanishing points. The View of Delft is fascinating in its detail and texture: water, reflections on water, blue sky and varying shades of clouds, a brick bridge, tile roofs and always his bright light shining here into the interior of the city.
I have no favorites. View of Delft hangs in our dining room. And so does Girl with a Pearl Earring.
And The Milkmaid hangs in our breakfast room.
What are the chances that all these paintings would congregate together, and not just be collected in a book? Unlike the Grand Canyon or a pyramid, they are scattered again far and wide back in their home museum or private collection.
Have you ever seen something in a book present itself larger than life and all around you?