Vermeer’s success at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam extends beyond record-breaking attendance. The exhibit sold out 450,000 tickets in just two days and was also captured on film for the popular documentary “Vermeer: The Greatest Exhibition.” Produced by Exhibition on Screen, this film about the Dutch Old Master is set to be shown on more cinema screens throughout the UK than any previous art film.
The Times’ culture writer, Chloe Ashby, suggests that the Vermeer film’s popularity stems from its slowness. Ashby explained on BBC Radio 4’s Today show that, unlike many other art documentaries, the film provides an immersive experience that closely mimics being alone with the paintings. In contrast to crowded galleries, the film allows viewers to pause and observe the works without distractions or interruptions.
The film and the exhibition showcase Vermeer’s most famous masterpieces, including Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Geographer, and The Milkmaid. Furthermore, it marks the first time that Girl Reading a Letter at the Open Window, which has recently undergone restoration, has been put on public display.
Vermeer’s paintings, which featured scenes of middle-class life in domestic interiors, were created during the Baroque era. However, his unique style of quiet clarity only gained widespread recognition many years after his death. It was not until the late 19th century that his work became well-known.
Vermeer is renowned for his small-scale genre paintings that feature a single main subject, typically positioned near a window that allows natural light to flood the scene. Most of his subjects were women, and his specialization was depicting scenes from daily life in his hometown of Delft. With his works, Vermeer skillfully captures the viewer’s attention, showcasing the beauty in ordinary things like a row of houses that one might typically overlook or someone performing daily tasks.
The human figures in his paintings appear deeply engrossed in their actions, seemingly lost in thought. The scenes he presents are but a single moment captured in time, frozen in motion as if in a photograph. Through his art, Vermeer transformed the mundane into the extraordinary, giving us a glimpse into the new middle-class way of life that emerged during his time.
As we look at Vermeer’s Woman Reading a Letter, we may wonder about the contents of the correspondence and who sent it. Perhaps it was a lover, and the woman’s expression hints at the deep emotions stirred by the words on the page.
Sadly, Vermeer’s financial situation had already deteriorated by 1672. He passed away three years later with unresolved debts, leaving his wife and children in dire straits.
Until the mid-19th century, Vermeer’s works remained largely unrecognized, leading him to be nicknamed ‘the Sphinx of Delft.’ Despite selling some of his paintings during his lifetime, his legacy and personal life remained a mystery for many years. However, in the 1870s, he was rediscovered, and his work gained the recognition it deserved.