Seeing Vermeer

We planned this trip in order to see the once-in-a-lifetime exhibit of most of the Vermeers that exist. The curators state that it will never be repeated because the paintings are too fragile to travel ever again. Thanks to Alison, we joined the Friends of the Rijksmuseum one day about a year ago and were able to book our tickets the second they became available to insiders like us. And since they sold out really quickly, I’m incredibly grateful to her for making this possible!

The Rijks has done a great job of guiding viewers straight to the exhibit. Follow the blue lines,

and you’ll get right to it. And how was it? Quietly magnificent. Knowing that there are zillions of images of Vermeers online, I took only one picture, of The Little Street. My photo is not great, but the painting certainly was.

It’s hard for me to pinpoint the appeal of this image. It’s simple and straightforward, but the more you look the more there is to see.

The exhibit in general was so beautifully lit that, between the lighting in the museum and Vermeer’s masterful use of light inside and out, every picture just glowed. And yes, it was crowded, but if you waited patiently you would find yourself right in front of each painting.

It looks like quite a crowd, I know, but it was not hard to make your way to the front. Alison was a knowledgeable companion, having read so much, and was able to fill me in on the details. As with our tour of the Carpaccio exhibit at the National Gallery last fall, we found that knowing what to look for made a diference in how much we appreciated every detail.

The Lttle Street, in all its apparent simplicity, is still my favorite, along with The View from Delft

and The Woman Holding a Balance (which we count as one of “ours” since it’s at the National Gallery in DC where we can walk in and see it for free any day of the week).

And there’s more! Even The Girl with the Pearl Earring, which has become such a cliche since the novel and the movie, was fresh and new today.

The Rijks has done well by Vermeer and the public.

After that, what is there to do but proceed to the cafe and the gift shop! We had a very Dutch lunch of a root vegetable soup, a cheese sandwich and two little pieces of fruit.

Then on to the gift shop, where I found a short book about the voyage to Nova Zembla and a magnet of the Little Street. From here we paid a visit to the Hall of Honor, which includes the newly restored Night Watch

still adjusting to its new frame, hence its complicated setup. Eventually the equipment will go away and we will be able to see it unadorned.

Also in the Hall of Honor (aka the Rijks’ greatest hits) were the threatened swan,

a few Judith Leyster paintings, and several Rembrandts, including this self-portrait as the Apostle Paul.

We paid a brief visit to the Java room,

with this portrait of Javanese officials, as well as a number of dioramas set in Java and environs. This one portrays a plantation in Suriname.

Yes, the Dutch were huge colonialists, with areas of South America and the then-Dutch East Indies just some of their territory. Interestingly, the museum has started adding labels that expand on the history to, for example, point out that the salt that features as a sign of wealth in some paintings was the product of enslaved people. Ditto in the Java rooms, which chronicle a long history of Dutch oppression of the people of Java and Suriname. The dioramas seem to have been a fashion of the time, carefully crafted in every detail.

To see what the always interesting David Byrne thought of the Rijks, go to his post about it here.

Home on the tram (though we did have to go to and fro before we found the right way to go), then a bit of R&R before dinner. On our host Sebastian’s recommendation, we tried the local pub, t’ Blaauwhooft, which hit the spot.

Chicken satay for AO and a portabello mushroom sandwich with frites and mayonnaise for me. A very friendly spot with good service and tasty food. We’ll be back!

And a dramatic Dutch sky to follow us home.

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