Famous paintings by Claude Monet (1840 - 1926) and Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) are highlights at New York art museums this fall... and remind me that art appreciation is weakened without the foundation of art history. As with these masterpieces!
On September 11, 1609, English explorer Henry Hudson first sailed into New York City, subsequently exploring the river later named in his honor. To commemorate this 400th anniversary, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has loaned Vermeer's The Milk Maid (or The Kitchen Maid) to the Metropolitan Museum. It appears in the U.S. for the first time in 70 years, and will star at the Met until 11/29/2009.
For over two hundred years before Vermeer, milk maids and kitchen maids were reputed to be excessively amorous. Who knew? As a result, these women were painted frequently (and far more frequently than other household employees).
Pieter de Hooch, A Woman Peeling Apples. Oil on canvas, c. 1663. Approximately 28" x 21", The Wallace Collection, London.
Among the Dutch painters who portrayed the kitchen help are Gabriel Metsu, Pieter de Hooch, Hendrick Sorgh, Gerald ter Borch, and Jan Vermeer.
It is generally accepted that Vermeer created 45 works, of which 36 are presently known (and considered masterpieces). All but three of these famous paintings are modest interiors with simple possessions; most are strongly illuminated by light streaming in from the left. In The Milk Maid, as in many of his other famous paintings, Vermeer has captured a quiet moment of household solitude, an unknown state for a man who reportedly had between
The Kitchen Maid, c. 1658-1660. Oil on canvas, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
eleven and fifteen children.
Many art history experts believe Vermeer used a camera obscura, an optical tool that projects images and renders reflections as small blobs or points of light; these may be seen on the cheese, the pitcher's rim and the maid's apron. As a Dutch naturalist, Vermeer includes typical objects of the bourgeois house such as the hamper and brazier, or box which held burning coals or fire. Careful inspection of the Delft tile by the footwarmer reveals Cupid, perhaps a nod to the allegedly shady reputation of the milk maid.
Over 250 years later, Claude Monet was even more mesmerized by light. When his first art painting was sold when he was middle-aged -- handled by the art dealer Theo van Gogh, brother of Vincent - Monet purchased a country home in Giverny. There, he painted over 200 versions of its gardens and ponds. Among these masterpieces are the triptych Water Lilies, described by former French President Georges Clemenceau as a "water meadow covered with
Oil on canvas. Left panel of triptych, each panel 6'6" x 14'. Mrs. Simmon Guggenheim Fund, Museum of Modern Art.
flowers and leaves, ignited by the torch of the sun and glittering in the play of light between the sky and the surface of the water". Who can top that description?
Monet intended that the Water Lilies panels be installed abutting each other to form an oval, thereby creating "the illusion of an endless whole, of water without horizon or bank." For the first time in eight years, these famous paintings will be exhibited as he intended. I'd vote that it's a must see.
Note: Of the 36 existing Vermeer paintings officially attributed to him, eight are in U.S. art museums. The Met has five of these masterpieces while The Frick Collection has three Vermeer paintings. With a nod to my former lifetime in the finance world, that is also known as 22%. Incredible!
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