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Amsterdam’s Once-In-A-Lifetime Vermeer Show

February 14, 2023
A portrait of a young woman looking towards the viewer over her left shoulder against a black background wearing a blue and yellow turban as well as a pearl earring.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

On Friday February 10th, the largest-ever exhibition of the works of Johannes Vermeer opened at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Works by Vermeer are few and far between, with scholars often disagreeing on how many completed works of his truly exist. There are at least thirty-four verifiable Vermeer paintings, while some dispute the authenticity of three additional pieces. Regardless, twenty-eight works by the Dutch master, about three-quarters of his total existing work, now sit in one place. These include some of his most iconic works like Girl with a Pearl Earring, View of Delft, and The Geographer. Nick Glass of CNN called the exhibition “the art world’s coup of the year”. Ticket sales exceeded 200,000 before the show even opened.

The last time an equally-extensive collection of Vermeer works was brought together was 1995, when Washington’s National Gallery hosted its exhibition of twenty-one paintings. With a show like this, with so many of the artist’s original works on display at one time, visitors can now see the evolution of Vermeer’s style and the development of his technique. The cooperation necessary to make this show possible has also spurred collaboration between major museums in Vermeer scholarship. Research projects involving the Rijksmuseum, Washington’s National Gallery, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art have allowed art historians and conservators to draw more definitive conclusions about some of the paintings attributed to the Dutch master. For example, last September, new scans of the Rijksmuseum’s famous Milkmaid painting revealed previous features that were later painted over, flying in the face of the widely-accepted understanding of Vermeer as a methodical and meticulous painter who rarely ever made changes as large or visible as this. Furthermore, the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC announced three months ago that one of its four Vermeer paintings, Girl with a Flute, is most likely by another artist, possibly an associate of Johannes Vermeer. Despite this revelation, Girl with a Flute is on loan to the Rijksmuseum and on display as part of the Vermeer exhibition.

Some of the paintings notably absent from the exhibition include The Music Lesson (part of the Royal Collection kept at Buckingham Palace), The Astronomer (held at the Louvre), and Woman with a Water Jug (kept at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art). Obviously, the Vermeer painting The Concert also could not be featured in the Rijksmuseum exhibition since it was infamously stolen from Boston’s Gardner Museum in 1990. The Rijksmuseum’s Vermeer exhibition will run until June 4th.