Saturday, August 10, 2013

Vermeer at the High

Yesterday I saw the Girl with a Pearl Earring.  She was not as vibrant as most of the printed and digital renderings I have seen of her.  Her colors were muted by light and time.  Her background had changed from dark green to black.  She looked a bit more stated and brighter when Johannes Vermeer painted her around 1665.  But her mystery and expression and marvelous technique was as fresh as ever.  She is timeless, as is Vermeer.

She was alone in a darkened medium-sized museum room, except for some historical explanation of the work printed on the walls.  The room had more people in it and felt more crowded than the rest to the exhibition at the High Museum.  She is so young and sensual and alluring.  Her eyes and lips seem to want me from 350 years ago; that is how I felt when I saw this masterpiece in its first appearance ever in the southeastern United States.

Little is actually known about Vermeer, no self-portrait of him exists.  Only about 35 of his paintings survive, though a precious few others were destroyed are known of have existed.  I have blogged about him before and specifically how Marcel Proust used him in his great novel.  For me, Vermeer is where painting really begins, despite my appreciation for the much older painting by Leonardo da Vinci I saw recently in DC.

The exhibition also featured several works by Rembrandt van Rijn, the most I have ever seen in single exhibition.  The play of light and dark.  Rembrandt mastered it.  I was most impressed by his Susanna (1636) but could not photograph it because no photos were allowed in this "special exhibit".  Jennifer especially enjoyed The Goldfinch (1654) by Carel Fabritius, an unfamiliar artist to me.

Another unfamiliar artist, Pieter Claesz, caught my attention.  He only had two pieces in the exhibit but both seemed highly symbolic and metaphysical in nature.  Both possessed energy and realism despite the juxtaposition of odd objects.  Vanitas Still Life (1630) has a skull with a time piece a quill and other things.  Still Life with a a Lighted Candle (1627) as brilliant as Rembrandt, featured spectacles, some books, and a glass of water reflecting the other pieces in distorted fashion.   Absolutely marvelous work.  I will research this artist more deeply in the near future.

Other impressive works in the special exhibit included: View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds (1670-1675) by Jacob van Ruisdael, The Violin Player (1626) by Gerrit van Honthorst, The Old Lacemaker (1655) by Nicholas Maes, Interior of an Imaginary Catholic Church (1668) by Emanuel de Witte, and a thrilling (to me, the embroidery on the gloves and the hanging jewel viewed within inches of the painted surface) Portrait of Aletta Hanemans (1625) by Frans Hals.  These are some of the Dutch Masters that dominated painting up until the time of the impressionists in the 1870's.

Afterwards we toured the contemporary art level; viewing some African art and visiting the Richter Room at the High.  Not really much new there. As we were exiting for lunch a small group of teens, mostly Asian, arrived with an instructor, an experienced guide who knew all the subtleties of the exhibits.  Jennifer and I listened in as the guide explained the 800 skylight openings in the ceiling of the High.  Each has a short extension of maybe a couple of feet curved slightly northward to maximize the intake of natural northern light.  This is the primary illumination in the contemporary level; thus the art is displayed in natural light when the sun is out.  I had never noticed this before.  The effect is lost, of course, at night.  But I have never been to the High except in daylight.  Some of the kids laid on the floor and looked at the blue sky overhead.  Jennifer and I shared this information with her parents who we trailing us.  We all walked around in appreciation of it for a minute or so, looking skyward.

The occasion was Jennifer's brother visiting from out west.  He usually makes a trip once a year to see his parents and sister and extended family and friends.  I enjoy talking to him.  He is as wide open in terms of conversation topics as is my wife, they are brother and sister after all.  We all had lunch at a very busy Murphy's afterwards in Virginia Highland.  It was crowded and we had to wait about 20 minutes for a table on a Friday afternoon.  On the way out of Atlanta we drove past the Fox Theater and the Georgian Terrace Hotel.  I think that is my favorite part of Atlanta, after Turner Field itself, of course.

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