As some of you may know, I studied art history in college and grad school and although my focus has since shifted to contemporary art, I still love my classics. On Art History Tuesdays, each week I will feature one of my favorite artists I studied in my art history classes and pair them up with a selection of contemporary ‘incarnations’ of what I feel they were all about conceptually or visually. Enjoy!
(º1632-†1675) is one of the most famous Dutch masters from the seventeenth century. Tourist from all over the world visit the Mauritshuis in The Hague to admire his painting 'The Girl with the Pearl Earring' (seen on the right). You know, the Scarlett Johansson painting. But there's so much more to Vermeer than beautiful girls and a wonderfully filmed love story. In the 19th century, Johannes Vermeer was often called 'the sphinx of Delft', because so little was known about his life, character and method of working. Even his works have very little narrative to them. The (often single) figures in his work seem part of a still life, captured while engaged in an everyday activity. Although he painted only a thirty or so works (the exact number is unclear, some are still debated to be forgeries), Vermeer has a very distinct style. His extraordinary use of light, the still life quality of the figures, and the perfect design of his canvases. Look at the way the light guides us to the woman's face in 'Woman Holding a Balance', to her hands. Or the perfect rhythm of the rectangular shape of the mirror, its diagonal with the table, her hands, and the painting in the background (depicting Christ at the Last Judgement). His paintings make me think of what our drama teacher in high school used to call 'the meaningful silences' in the scenes. Balanced, quiet, yet full of suspense.
More information: Mauritshuis
It might not come as a surprise to you that two out of three of the artists I picked for today are photographers and two of them are of Dutch origin (the same ones). Many scholars believe Vermeer used a camera obscura
to draft his works, and Vermeer or the style of Vermeer has proven an interesting subject for many photographers.
Someone I could not leave out in this respect (and I know you've probably seen these) is Dutch self-taught photographer Hendrik Kerstens
. His magnificent photographs of his daughter Paula are simply stunning and rightfully won him the Taylor Wessing Photographic Prize in 2008 from the National Portrait Gallery London. His play with light, the suspenseful looks, the play with Dutch traditional dress, the stern colors and well... allover perfection. Dare I say he comes pretty damn close to emulating his master?
Another Dutch photographer I simply adore, partly again for her Vermeer-like use of light, is Desirée Dolron
. Again, she's famous, so you've probably seen her work around as well, but I couldn't leave her out because, well, she's absolutely brilliant. Her works in the Xteriors are breathtaking. They possess the contemplative air of Vermeer, combined with the stern blacks and blues that Holland seems to bring out in so many artists. A couple of weeks ago, a photographer said to me that neither orange (the national color), nor red, nor white, nor blue (the colors of our flag) were truly the national color of Holland. According to him it is black. The color of dirt, of mud, of soberness, of honesty and quality. I've been thinking about this and seeing Dolron's pictures, I think he might be right.
Now, for the odd one out (I like to have an odd one out - we can't have too much black on a blog called 'The Yellow Umbrella' I think): I'd like to give you a taste of the work of Toronto-based painter Shaun Downey
. I like how his paintings have a real feel of North-Americanness to them. I'm not sure if that makes sense. I guess his colors and handling paint just remind me of Edward Hopper
. So why do his paintings remind me of Vermeer. Well.. do I need to tell you? The capturing of women engaged in common tasks. The light flowing in from the sides. The compositions that mirror shapes (look at the girl holding the globe - its round shape mirrored in the doorknob and the hairpiece. Or the flowers in the girl's hair and the wallpaper behind her. The play of lines between the window, the counter and the wall in the top image), reminding me of the mosaic-like structure of many Vermeer canvasses. Gorgeous!
Well, class, that's it for today! Hope you enjoyed it!
Love, Anna Denise