Showing posts with label Vermeer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vermeer. Show all posts

January 13, 2016

Should the Looting Legacy Enter the Museum?

By Aubrey Catrone, ARCA 2015 Alumna

MFA Exhibition Visitors: Class Distinctions, Image Credit MFA Website
The Nazi hunt for the work of Johannes Vermeer is not a long buried secret. It has been immortalized within a number of academic works and has found its way to mainstream media. Both Lynn H. Nicholas and Robert M. Edsel intimate an unspoken rivalry between Reichmarshall Hermann Georing and Hitler over the works of the Dutch Master that were uncovered during the pervasive looting of World War II. For, Vermeer was considered a champion of Germanic culture. In a world built upon the legacy of the great Italian masters, Hitler clung to Vermeer as the savior of his vision for cultural purity. For this reason, Vermeer's surviving works, if discovered amongst the loot, were to be considered revered above all else.

It was through this historical lens that I contextualized Vermeer’s The Astronomer, within the Museum of Fine Arts Boston’s (MFA) special exhibit, “Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer.” This work was, arguably, one of Hitler’s most prized acquisitions during World War II. Having been seized from the Rothschilds, the German dictator believed The Astronomer epitomized the superiority of the Germanic peoples. 

Discreetly nestled on a temporary wall, painted a calming grey, so as not to detract from the beauty of the piece, the Astronomer, sat engrossed in his studies. The painting seemed to serve as a juxtaposition between the role of scientists in Dutch society during the 17th-century, and their wealthy counterparts who, while amateurs, yearned to immerse themselves in the evolving climate of discovery and advancement of the time period. In this manner, the placement and accompanying description of the painting captured the essence of the exhibit. Yet, there was no mention of the painting’s muddled past. The MFA plaque merely stated the painting was on loan from the Musée de Louvre.

I question whether or not a small mention of The Astronomer’s past should have been included within the exhibit. On one hand, it could be argued that such information could detract from the theme of the exhibit. Yet, wouldn’t it also bring a new dimension to the history of the piece as well as the exhibit itself?

This question is largely based in my observations of the patrons I walked with. One man asked if I had noticed a painting was on loan from Queen Elizabeth II's private collection. I overhead another couple debating not only the aesthetic aspects of a painting, but the historical details as well. Others simply took the time to peruse the gallery, reading each description in its entirety. These art enthusiasts, sacrificing a sunny, Monday afternoon to walk amongst vestiges of the past, were enthralled not only by the theme of the display, but by the lives of the paintings before them.

Informing patrons that an object was looted during World War II brings life to the artwork. For, the life of a painting does not simply end when the paint dries. It changes hands. It travels the world. It inspires emotion. Sharing such information, while somewhat controversial, not only creates the opportunity for people to engage with the art on a new level. It also preserves a significant period in art history. It is both a topic of conversation and an homage to the past. A single line of text is all it would require to preserve what should never be forgotten.

Sources Consulted: 

Edsel, Robert M. The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. New York: Center Street, 2009.

Feigenbaum, Gail. ìManifest Provenance,î in Provenance: An Alternate History of Art, ed. Gail Feigenbaum and Inge Reist, 6-28. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2012.

Feliciano, Hector. The Lost Museum: the Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the Worldís Greatest Works of Art. New York: BasicBooks, 1997.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. ìAcquisitions and Provenance Policy.î Accessed August 4, 2015. http://www.mfa.org/collections/art-past/acquisitions-and-provenance-policy.

Nicholas, Lynn H. The Rape of Europa: the Fate of Europeís Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Knopf, 1994.

June 16, 2013

Amsterdam Diary: Visiting the newly opened Rijksmuseum is worth the stopover (and the day)

Inside the Rijksmuseum bike tunnel
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

SUNDAY, Amsterdam - Saturday morning I avoided getting lost cycling through Amsterdam by using the Google maps I had printed out before I'd left home. I stopped by De Bakkerswinkel for thick buttered raisin bread and a latte for breakfast -- a crucial element as the newly renovated Rijksmuseum has only one cafe for food and drinks. A section inside is set aside for "picknicks" so visitors can bring in food and water (I never found any water fountains).

Crowd at Rembrandt's
 Night Watch extends all day
Visitors do have the option of leaving for outside venders and then re-entering the museum on the same ticket. I stopped for food and drink at about 1 p.m. after completing the 90-minute Multimedia Tour on the "Golden Age" of Dutch art (it took me twice the time since I looked at other works in passing). The line at the cafe was long, so I returned to the galleries for another audio tour that highlighted the collection. I spent another two hours looking at the art before returning to a less crowded cafe for a seat at a communal table and a recommended smoked mackerel tartare. The Rijksmuseum does accommodate long visits in the museum with plentiful sofas strategically placed in front of great art for relaxing views.

The crowd in front of the Vermeer paintings
The renovated Rijksmuseum offers improved lighting (large skylights augmented by lights by Phillips) and more room to display the collection. The crowds have increased in front of the four paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt's Night Watch, and three paintings by Van Gogh. A couple of years ago on a Sunday morning my family and I had found ourselves almost alone with these same paintings. However, the galleries are well ventilated and climate controlled and a visible force of smartly uniformed security guards manage the increased number of visitors. I did manage to sneak a few good photographs of the Vermeer paintings and Rembrandt's masterpiece in the last 15 minutes before the museum closed.

Jan Asselijn (1610-1652),
The Threatened Swan, 1650
The art is incredible. In Southern California we have numerous examples of Rembrandt's work from The Getty to the Timken Museum in San Diego, but the artist's work at the Rijksmuseum against other great Dutch work highlights his genius. It's worth the trip to Amsterdam to gain a greater understanding of why Rembrandt has endured -- even the few etchings displayed are impressive -- and influenced so many artists.

Biblioteek open to public
One of the benefits of the renovation is that lesser known works can again be displayed. For example, paintings by father and son Jozef and Isaac Israels can now be seen after years in storage. And the Gallery of Honour highlights paintings in the vast collection for easy viewing. For years my husband had remembered a painting from his last visit -- that of a large white swan with opened wings -- and I was able to show him the painting via Skype and the free Wi-Fi provided throughout the Rijksmuseum.

The multi-story library (biblioteek) is open to the public with available seating at tables for reading current art periodicals. 

The Multimedia tour is available for five euros at the Rijksmuseum or you can download it for free on your smartphone.

A distinguished gentleman and Rembrandt's Night Watch before closing.

June 3, 2013

Girl with the Pearl Earring and other Mauritshuis Paintings End San Francisco Visit -- Next Stop Atlanta

Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, Mauritshuis
By Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring ended its visit to San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum today.

This work was part of an exhibition of thirty-five 17th century Dutch paintings on loan from the Royal Picture Gallery Maurithuis in The Hague. Girl with a Pearl Earring is considered not a portrait but a “tronie”, the study of an anonymous face meant to portray certain characters or types rather than recognizable persons, but this has not stopped viewers from speculating on the sitter’s identity.

In Tracy Chevalier’s 2001 novel titled after the painting, the author speculates that the girl in the painting is a peasant maid employed in the Vermeer household. Art historian Benjamin Binstock proposes in his book Vermeer’s Family Secrets that the model is Johannes Vermeer’s daughter Maria, who helped the family of 11 surviving children (four died young) produce paintings as her father’s unofficial apprentice until her marriage. Vermeer, the artist of The View of Delft and The Astronomer, died at the age of 43. His work went unrecognized for almost two centuries until rehabilitated by the French writer Théophile Thoré in 1866. The Mauritshuis purchased Diana and Her Nymphs in 1876 as a painting by Nicholaes Maes (1634-1693). At an auction in 1881 in The Hague, The Girl with a Pearl Earring sold for “two guilders, plus the buyer’s premium of thirty cents”, according to Quentin Buvelot and Ariane van Suchtelen in the chapter “Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer: The Dutch Mona Lisa” in the exhibit’s catalogue, Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis:
Over the years Vermeer’s technique became increasingly refined. His talent for using small dots of paint to create an illusion of light playing on the surface of an object is indeed masterly. This “pointillism” was applied to great effect in The Milkmaid, for example, in which countless tiny highlights make the bread rolls and earthenware seen almost palpable. It has often been surmised that this technique indicates the use of optical devices, such as the camera obscura, but there is no proof of this theory.
As for the history of Vermeer’s paintings, Buvelot and Suchtelen wrote:
The inventory of Vermeer’s possessions – drawn up in 1676, three months after his death – records “Two tronies painted in Turkish fashion.” One of these works may well have been Girl with a Pearl Earring, since her striking turban is characteristic of the traditional attire of the Ottoman Empire, to which Turkey once belonged. If so, it means that Vermeer never parted with the painting. 

Twenty years later, on May 16, 1696, twenty-one paintings by Vermeer were sold at auction in Amsterdam from the estate of the Delft printer Jacob Dissius (1653-1976), who owned more than half of what is now Vermeer’s known oeuvre. This impressive collection of Vermeer’s had come from the estate of Dissius’s father-in-law, Pieter van Ruijven (1624-1674), a well-to-do Delft rentier.
The collecting history of Girl with a Pearl Earring is largely unknown:
The provenance of Girl with a Pearl Earring is unclear until 1881, when it was offered at a sale in The Hague, where the collection of a certain Mr. Braams was put up for auction. Victor de Stuers (1843-1916), an important art historian, recognized the quality of the painting and advised his friend Arnoldus des Tombe (1818-1902) to buy it. 

When Des Tombe, a neighbor of the Maritshuis, died in 1902, Girl with a Pearl Earring was one of 12 paintings given to the Royal Picture Gallery. In 1995-1996, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. displayed this tronie in a Vermeer retrospective.

The next stops on this tour of the Mauritshuis paintings are the High Museum of Artin Atlanta (June 22 through September 29, 2013) and the Frick Collection in New York City (October 22, 2013 through January 14, 2014).

The "Other" Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis Traveling with Girl with a Pearl Earring from San Francisco to Atlanta to New York City

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait
Germanisches National
 Museum
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Thirty-four 17th century Dutch paintings accompanied Girl with a Pearl Earring in the exhibition leaving the De Young Museum in San Francisco for the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (June 23 through September 29, 2013). Only 10 of those paintings will visit The Frick Collection in New York (October 22, 2013 through January 19, 2014).

Last year, a larger exhibit of 48 paintings from the Mauritshuis toured two museums in Japan: The Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art (TMMA) and the Kobe City Museum.  The Mauritshuis exhibit at TMMA included a second Vermeer painting, Diana and her nymphs (now on display at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag). After the North American tour, Palazzo Fava in Bologna, Italy, will host 40 paintings from the Mauritshuis while the 17th century palace undergoes an expansion and renovation until mid-2014. More than 100 paintings from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis have traveled to the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.

Portrait of Rembrandt
(1606-1669) with a Gorget
,
Rembrandt (studio copy)
The Mauritshuis opened as a Dutch state museum on January 1, 1822 as the "Royal Cabinets of Paintings and Curiosities." The catalogue, Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, includes "The History of the Mauritshuis and Its Collection" by Lea van der Vinde:
As its new name made clear, the museum did not merely exhibit paintings, for the entire ground floor was filled with a colorful display of "rarities." The art collection hung upstairs, where the walls were covered from floor to ceiling with paintings. Both collections had been formed over the years by various stadtholders; their turbulent history spans more than four centuries.
Rachel Ruysch
Vase with Flowers
1700
Mauritshuis
Half of the paintings at the De Young Mauritshuis show had been acquired by The Hague institution in the 20th century. Provenance information in the catalogue was provided in the section describing the painting and appeared incomplete. Many of the paintings have been restored in recent years. For example, infrared reflectography in the conservation studio in 1998 showed an underdrawing on a Rembrandt painting purchased in 1768, Portrait of Rembrandt (1606-1669) with a Gorget, that indicates it is a studio copy of a self-portrait of Rembrandt at the Germanisches National Museum in Nuremberg. The last painting highlighted in the catalogue is Vase of Flowers (1700) by Rachel Ruysch,  a married woman and mother of 10 children who painted until her death at the age of 84. A recent restoration removed several old layers of varnish.

The ticket to the Mauritshuis paintings at the De Young included entrance to an adjoining exhibition of Rembrandt's (and contemporaries) etchings from the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

February 20, 2013

Jonathan Keats' FORGED: Han van Meegeren (1889-1947)



Han van Meegeren's "Supper at Emmaus"
Review excerpt by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

Forged: Why Fakes Are The Great Art of Our Age
Jonathon Keats
Oxford University Press 2013 ($19.95, 197 pages)

What is Authority? Han van Meegeren (1889-1947)

In Jonathan Keats' book on art forgers, the San Francisco art critic recounts how in 1917 art critics loved Han van Meegeren’s first exhibit of his paintings; however, five years later critics panned van Meegeren’s exhibit of biblical paintings (personally I blame Cézanne for modernism in art).  Keats writes:
Though the gallery found buyers for van Meegeren’s virtuoso depictions of the young Christ teaching in the Temple and the supper at Emmaus, his earnings could hardly compensate for the injury to his reputation.
Van Meegeren would revisit the subjects of these paintings in two pivotal moments of his life.  He created and sold Supper at Emmaus as a Vermeer, then, after accused of collaborating with the Nazis by selling a Dutch masterpiece to Goering, he confessed to his forgeries. Had van Meegeren forged art to mock art experts or did he just want to make more money? After all, Keats writes:
Van Meegeren was well compensated for this work [‘flattering portraits of the upper crust’], generating an income that many avant-garde artists would have envied.  But in the early 20th century, no modern painter could command prices comparable to the old masters.  Picasso earned approximately $5,000 for a major canvas in the ‘20s.  By comparison, The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals sold for approximately three times that amount – and it was a counterfeit.  The painter? Han van Meegeren.
The counterfeit Laughing Cavalier was painted in 1922, two years before van Meegeren’s second exhibit met the disdain of art critics and years before he sold five Vermeer paintings. In a 1937 issue of the Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Abraham Bredius, the former director of The Hague’s Mauritshuis Museum, praised [van Meegeren’s] the newly discovered Supper at Emmaus as the ‘masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft.’ Keats writes of van Meegeren’s forgery success:
On the strength of the laudatory text, and the author’s eminence, the Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam acquired the painting for 520,000 guilders – approximately $3.9 million today – and made The Supper at Emmaus the centerpiece of a blockbuster exhibition on the golden age.
Conversation PieceThe Smiling GirlLace Maker, and a Portrait of a Girl with a Blue Bow were four paintings made by van Meegeren and sold as Vermeer paintings.  Art dealer Joseph Duveen sold The Lace Maker and The Smiling Girl to Andrew Mellon.  Keats writes about how the forger fooled the art experts:
In other words, the connoisseurship exploited by van Meegeren was the very basis of Vermeer’s art historical resurrection.  The authority he abused may have been venal and vainglorious – and jealously hostile to scientific verification – but there was no substitute for it.  Gullibility was the underside of open-mindedness.
Keats recounts the van Meegeren’s arrest for collaborating with the Nazis, how he subsequently diverted attention from his work for Hitler to confessing that the paintings allegedly sold to Nazis had been counterfeit Vermeers. He then participated in performance art by spending months in the former Goudstikker Gallery creating another forgery, The Young Christ Teaching in the Temple, to show off his ability. The Dutch public was led to believe that van Meegeren’s forgeries had resisted Nazi authority. The convicted forger died before beginning his prison sentence.  Keats writes:
For the experts and critics, the verdict and consequences were more ambiguous. Conveniently deceased before the trial, Abraham Bredius was universally condemned as a fool, while the few experts who had not been tricked took the opportunity to gloat.  Most noisily, the Duveen agent Edward Fowles publicly released a telegram he’d secretly cable to Joseph Duveen after seeing Emmaus in 1937: PICTURE A ROTTEN FAKE. When the New York Herald Tribune picked up his story, no mention was made of the suspect Vermeers that Duveen had sold Andrew Mellon. 
On the other hand, Dirk Hannema refused to accept that Emmaus was a fake and spent the rest of his life trying to establish its authenticity with funding from Daniël van Beuningen. Though no credible scholars took Hannema’s research seriously and he no longer had an official position at the museum, The Supper at Emmaus remained on exhibit at the Boijmans – with no mention of who’d painted it – until Hannema’s death in 1984.

The unlabeled Emmaus was a fitting tribute for Han van Meegeren, who’d shattered the authority that made him without fostering alternatives.
Van Gogh's Le Blute-fin Windmill and Dirk Hannema (AP)
However, Dirk Hannema's reputation did not end with his misidentification of van Meegeren's Vermeer forgery. Here's a link to a video about the controversial museum director's life in art connoisseurship and collecting (now at the Museum de Fundatie). Hannema spent years claiming that a painting of a windmill he'd purchased for 6,500 francs from a Parisian dealer was by Van Gogh -- and 25 years after his death the Van Gogh Museum authenticated Le Blute-fin Windmill.

The Boijmans exhibited Van Meegeren's Fake Vermeers in 2010.

September 16, 2012

Movies "The Maiden Heist" and "St. Trinian's" offer fun comic twists on the art heist caper

Worcester Art Museum's Renaissance Court (WAM)
by Catherine Sezgin,
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

In Southern California from where I edit this blog, the hot weather here is a great time for cleaning out offices and watching art crime movies.  Here's this week's picks:

The Maiden Heist (2009, now on DVD) tells of how three bland security guards (played with dry humor by Morgan Freedman, Christopher Walken, William H. Macy) steal their favorite works of art which have been targeted to move from Boston to Denmark.  The art works featured were created for the movie.  The Maiden Heist is a love story about the personal magnatism of art and its ability to transform our lives by love as shown in the movie's subplot (Marcia Gay Harden plays the wife of Christopher Walken, a hardworking beautician with dreams of a warmer climate).  This heist movie was partially filmed at Massachusetts' Worcester Art Museum.  In December 2007 the Worcester Art Museum "allowed movie makers to transform its Renaissance Court and galleries into a set for the $20 million feature film The Maiden Heist" (ARCA Trustee Anthony Amore and journalist Tom Mashberg in their book Stealing Rembrandts (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

Forty years ago, on Wednesday, May 17, 1972, two men hired by Florian "Al" Monday entered the Worcester Art Museum late in the afternoon and removed four paintings from the walls 'in such a methodical manner' that museum 'visitors assumed the thieves were museum employees doing their jobs' (Stealing Rembrandts, page 42).   Then the two thieves 'remembered to pull down the blue-and-orange ski masks' (SR), placed the selected paintings into sacks, and walked to the main entrance of the museum.  Unfortunately, museum guard Philip J. Evans grabbed one of the thieves and was shot.  The four paintings (Gauguin's Brooding Woman and Head of a Woman, Picasso's Mother and Child, Rembrandt's St. Bartholomew) were later recovered.

The DVD for The Maiden Heist showed a trailer for St. Trinian's, a comedy about free-spirited girls who save their boarding school from bankruptcy.  Under the tutelage of a criminal played by Russell Brand, the students concoct a plan to steal Vermeer's The Girl with the Pearl Earring from the National Gallery in London (this painting is owned by the Mauritshuis in The Hague). The caper involves blowing up sewer gates, high wire climbing, and dancing through security beams. A copy of Vermeer's painting is sold on the 'black' market and the original is found by a couple of St. Trinian's schoolgirls.

Both movies can be viewed by middle-school and high-school students.

Other paintings of St. Bartholomew by Rembrandt can be found at the Timken Museum of Art in San Diego's Balboa Park and Los Angeles' Getty Center.