The artwork of Johannes Vermeer, declares Rijksmuseum director Taco Dibbits in Vermeer: The Biggest Exhibition, ‘makes us realise what it’s to be human’. The assertion feels so essential that it’s stated twice; first throughout the opening minutes of the movie, and later to conclude 90 minutes of a gently paced, warmly enthusiastic analysis of the Dutch painter’s works. Dibbits, different museum employees and artwork critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston all marvel on the element of the painter’s work (not a brushstroke to be seen!), comment on his use of sunshine and motion and surprise why these Sixteenth-century portraits of home life proceed to resonate as we speak. Maybe, Dibbits ventures, it’s as a result of they don’t seem to be so alien. We nonetheless pour milk alone in our kitchens; work in quiet focus at our desks; learn and write within the privateness of our properties as daylight spills in from adjoining home windows.
Created by the Exhibition on Display firm – whose current productions embody a movie on a Cézanne present on the Nationwide Portrait Gallery and one on Pissarro on the Ashmolean – Vermeer: The Biggest Exhibition has arguably earned its proper to be memorialised on display. In February, the Rijksmuseum introduced collectively 28 of the artist’s 37 recognized works for the biggest Vermeer exhibition in its historical past, dubbed a ‘as soon as in a lifetime’ occasion. Anticipation was excessive. Greater than 200,000 tickets had been bought prematurely; the web site crashed, and it bought out inside days. ‘Tickets are actually about as treasured a commodity as a flower bulb on the top of tulip mania,’ declared British Vogue.
For individuals who couldn’t go, Vermeer: The Biggest Exhibition presents, within the phrases of its creators, ‘a privileged view of the exhibition’. The movie is interspersed with skilled commentary, loosely structured across the order of the present itself – we begin within the first room along with his early works, earlier than shifting to the well-known work and later work. The expertise, at its greatest, appears like an impassioned and illuminating guided tour. We be taught concerning the social mores in Vermeer’s hometown of Delft and the way these influenced his work, whereas our consideration is drawn to the smallest of particulars – a tinge of sunburn on a maid’s arm, strands of thread on a desk. We’re taken behind the scenes; a Rijksmuseum conservator is seen in a backroom analyzing a portray; an animation demonstrates how Vermeer modified the position of figures as he labored, providing a uncommon glimpse into the painter’s compositional course of: no preparatory drawings exist as we speak. All 28 work are proven, most shut up, earlier than they’re mentioned. These photographs are sometimes so detailed that you could make out the cracked paint on the canvas.
Viewers can be taught rather a lot – although as with a guided tour, maybe this comes on the expense of a extra fast encounter with the artwork. Sitting on the couch, watching the commentary unfold on display, I discovered myself lapsing into the passive spectatorship that characterises a lot of media consumption as we speak. As one more portray appeared onscreen, I discovered myself considering not about my very own instinctive reactions however as an alternative anticipating the reasons that may comply with. And thus the inevitable query: can viewing a video from dwelling ever exchange the expertise of being within the bodily area of a gallery? Of weaving your means by means of its rooms, evaluating the marks on the canvas up shut, and searching, focusing and considering at your personal tempo? The movie’s personal interviewees counsel not. ‘It’s important to see them [the paintings] in actual life,’ says Campbell-Johnston. ‘Whenever you see them in actual life you realise why they’ve attained their iconic standing.’ Curators discuss Vermeer’s engagement with all of the senses, significantly in his portraits that characteristic musical devices, or concerning the pleasure of working with a portray at shut quarters.
The movie appears like a complement to the exhibition, not a substitute. ‘This exhibition tries to get nearer to Vermeer; this implies you can be nearer additionally to his faults,’ says curator Gregor J.M. Weber. Nevertheless, within the movie these faults are nary to be seen, stuffed as it’s with testaments to the painter’s singular genius. This uniformly celebratory strategy appears like the aim of an exhibition movie, but in addition its limitation. Seeing so many individuals standing exterior a locked room, hoping to get in, Vermeer: The Biggest Exhibition calls you over to the keyhole and presents you a peep inside.
Vermeer: The Biggest Exhibition is now screening in cinemas worldwide.