Monday, January 21, 2013

‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ opens at the de Young Museum in San Francisco on Saturday. It’s going to be a blockbuster. Thrilling!

This is an exciting week in the arts in San Francisco. The City is alive with pirouettes, paintings, pianos, many a pas de deux, saxophones and flutes, and orchestral thrills. And I can’t wait to dash over to the de Young on Wednesday night for a private preview of the Dutch Masters exhibition. 

Vermeer’s iconic painting is the focal point of the provocative and surprising show. 

Johannes Vermeer (Delft 1632–1675 Delft) 
Girl with a Pearl Earring, ca. 1665. 

On January 26, 2013, the de Young Museum will be the first North American venue to present ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis’, a selection of paintings from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.

I’ve seen the ‘Girl’ painting at The Hague, but it seldom travels outside the Netherlands, so this is a rare opportunity to study the portrait up close once more.

I admire the balance and vividness of the composition—and its confident geometry and simplicity. The face and the quirky twirled head-dress stand in high relief against the dark, smudgy background.

Vermeer’s masterpiece, sometimes called the Dutch Mona Lisa, is one of only thirty-six known paintings by the artist. 

Rachel Ruysch (The Hague 1664–1750 Amsterdam) 
Vase of Flowers, 1700.
The de Young will host thirty five selected paintings from the Dutch collection, including the renowned Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, and four works by Rembrandt van Rijn. 

Rembrandt van Rijn (studio copy)  
Portrait of Rembrandt (1606–1669) with a Gorget, after ca. 1629. 

Highlighting the spectacular artistic achievements of the Dutch Golden Age, these works reflect the culture of artistic, economic, and technological innovation that allowed the Netherlands to prosper in the 17th century. 

Gerrit van Honthorst, The Violin Player, 1626.

Pieter de Hooch (Rotterdam 1629–1684 Amsterdam) 
A Man Smoking and a Woman Drinking in a Courtyard, ca. 1658–1660. 

Though little is known about Vermeer’s life, the quiet grace and virtuoso technique evident in his paintings, and in particular his rendering of light, have placed him among the most important artists of the 17th century. The recent film of his life, also called ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’ did not exactly inform, and as always, it fictionalized the artist’s life and art.

Many of the details of his technique can only be appreciated through close examination of the painting surface, such as the few tiny brushstrokes that indicate the reflection on the pearl, and the broader, more expressive painting of her ultramarine and yellow turban. 

Rembrandt van Rijn, (Leiden 1606–1669 Amsterdam) 
Portrait of an Elderly Man, 1667. 
During the Dutch Golden Age, described one of the museum curators, a significant shift occurred in both the technique of painting and in subject matter, particularly as secular subjects began to replace religious themes.

Portraiture focused increasingly on ordinary people, like the man depicted in Rembrandt van Rijn’s portraits. The sitter seems not to be posed, but presented in a matter-of-fact way that differs from the idealized formality of traditional portraiture. 

Jan Steen 
(Leiden 1626–1679 Leiden) 
As the Old Sing, So Twitter the Young, ca. 1668–1670. 

Abraham van Beyeren, Banquet Still Life, after 1655.

According to the Mauritshuis museum curator, the Dutch were proud of the commercial success and technological achievements that supported the Netherlands’ thriving economy during the 17th century, including the massive engineering projects that allowed the country to reclaim large areas of land from the sea. Landscapes like View of a Lake with Sailing Ships by Salomon van Ruysdael can be read as descriptions of the Dutch countryside, but they also often reference technological innovations. Here Ruysdael includes ships designed specifically to navigate the shallow waterways of the Netherlands, as well as the windmill and portage equipment in the distance. 

Jan van Goyen, View of the Rhine near Hochelten, 1653.

Jacob van Ruisdael (Haarlem 1628?–1682 Amsterdam) 
View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds, ca. 1670–1675. 

Taken as a whole, this exhibition reflects the political, economic, technological and cultural accomplishments of an extraordinary society. The Fine Arts Museums are thrilled to have this rare opportunity to share these works from the Mauritshuis, paintings that exemplify the brilliant flowering of the Dutch school and continue to intrigue and delight to this day.

Jan Both, Italian Landscape, ca. 1645.

Willem Heda, Still Life with a Roemer and Watch, 1629.

The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis 

This prestigious Dutch museum, which has not lent a large body of works from its holdings in nearly 30 years, is undergoing an extensive two-year renovation and expansion that makes this opportunity possible. Following two stops at Japanese institutions, the exhibition debuts in the United States at the de Young Museum, then travels to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in the summer of 2013. A smaller selection will be on view at The Frick Collection in New York in October of 2013. Emilie Gordenker, Director of the Mauritshuis, comments, “We are delighted to have three excellent museums as partners for our U.S. tour. This agreement allows us to present our collection on both the west and east coasts of the United States, in large as well as more intimate venues.”

Housed in a magnificent 17th century city palace, the museum is celebrated for its masterpieces from the Dutch and Flemish Golden Age, including paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Steen, Hals, and Rubens. The works on permanent display provide a magnificent panorama of Dutch and Flemish art of the 15th to 17th centuries; from Flemish primitives to sunlit landscapes, from biblical characters to meticulous still lifes, and from calm interiors to humorous genre scenes. The core holdings of the Mauritshuis were acquired by Stadholder William V, Prince of Orange-Nassau (1748–1806), whose son, King William I (1772–1843), presented them to the Dutch nation in 1816. Consisting of nearly 300 works in 1822, the holdings of the Mauritshuis have grown to approximately 800 paintings. 

Exhibition Catalogue  The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis’, published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in collaboration with the Mauritshuis, The Hague. The volume includes highlights of the museum’s magnificent collection and features 35 masterpieces of portraiture, landscape, genre painting, history painting, and still life, each accompanied by text illuminating its context and significance. Curatorial essays provide an overview of the extraordinary world of the 17th century Dutch Republic, explore the history and future of the Mauritshuis building and collection, offer an in-depth look at Girl with a Pearl Earring,144 pages. Hardcover $34.95. Available in the Museum Stores, or online at

Carel Fabritius (Middenbeemster 1622–1654 Delft) 
The Goldfinch, 1654. 

The de Young Museum
Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118

Tickets can be purchased on site and in advance on the de Young’s website: 

Meindert Hobbema, Wooded Landscape with Cottages, ca. 1665.

Cultural Highs in San Francisco

On January 21, SFJAZZ opens its elegant modern jazz center just a hop from the San Francisco Opera house.

I’ll be attending the San Francisco Ballet’s glamorous opening night gala on January 24.

On January 23, SFJazz holds its opening night gala (sold out).

Art galleries like Modernism and Serge Sorokko and John Berggruen Gallery are opening new exhibits. Delicious, all. 

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The de Young is housed in a copper-clad landmark building designed by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron. It showcases the institution’s significant collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; art from Oceania, Africa, and the Americas; a diverse collection of costumes and textiles; and international contemporary art.

The Legion of Honor’s Beaux-Arts style building designed by George Applegarth is located on a bluff overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Its collections span 4,000 years and include European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West. 

Nicolaes Maes, The Old Lacemaker, ca. 1655.

Images of paintings in this exhibition courtesy the de Young Museum and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Used here with express permission.


Karena said...

Diane, Oh if only I could attend. The Girl with the Pearl Earrings is one of my favorite paintings. Vermeer what can I say, Our book-club read the book several years ago!

2013 Artists Series

Philip Bewley said...

Love your preview. I will be going on Thursday, and have reserved tickets for a group to go that weekend and the next week. This exhibit (and the Rembrandt exhibit) are free for members, which makes a membership with the San Francisco fine Arts Museums more than pay for itself. We having a 'golden age' of exhibits and cultural events in San Francisco, with this and the other things you describe. all of it thrilling.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Karen-

Yes, these are vivid and embracing to the viewer. I can't wait to see them. And there is always that moment--when it is clear that the painting in tiny! I remember clearly the first time I saw 'The Lacemaker' (Vermeer) at the Louvre...and it is about 8in x 10 inches. Lovely...and miniature.

PHILIP--Good evening.
Yes, it will be a wonderful exhibit. Only 35 pieces, but all of them bringing to life the time, the people, the costumes, the interiors we know, through these artists. Report to me your thoughts after you've seen it, please. I'm always eager to know your impressions.
very best, DIANE

shiree segerstrom said...

Exiting indeed. Met with much anticipation! Shiree'

Anonymous said...

This is just the thing that The Little Red Diary loves! Too bad I am not in San Francisco! Enjoy it.

Lynne Rutter said...

I am very excited about this exhibition. I haven't seen the Girl With a Pearl Earring face to face since the late 1980s but I have studied her thoroughly having painted copies 7 times in preparation for making a mural of it. I see she has been given a good restoration since my last visit to the Hague. I am also a fan of Dutch painting of this era in general. It's going to be a (small but) epic show!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Friends-

I attended a private preview last night.

The show will be incredibly popular. It's a series of rooms, enclosed, that make contemplation of the paintings quite wondrous.
It is also a scholarly show.
For me, the highlight (other than the Vermeer) is a pair of portraits by FRANZ HALS...they are life-size, and the paintings are so masterful (natch...), and exquisite--depicting the costumes and faces and style with such precision you feel that you are meeting and talking to the couple. Worth the trip alone. Loved it.
Kaki--come over from France for a visit! are absolutely right about the restoration. There is a very informative piece about it near the work.
By the way...the painting itself, the Vermeer, is presented in the gallery rather like the MONA LISA...behind bullet proof glass, in its own case, and with a guard standing beside...but still, last night it was so beautiful, so exquisite. But do pay attention to the pair of Franz Hals portraits...and report back to me...would love to know what you think, DIANE

vicki archer said...

Your preview is the next best thing to attending the exhibition Diane... How wonderful to have such magnificence hung together.. I am sure it was a memorable evening...
Have a wonderful week... xv