Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Girl with a Pearl Earring

My love affair with Vermeer goes back to 1990 when I first saw the independent film, All the Vermeers in New York, on an old PBS series called American Playhouse. Ironically, I remember little about the story (and was startled to read an amazon.com review which mentioned "The best scenes in the film involve Stephen Lack as Mark. All of his scenes just crackle, and he does some excellent ad-libs. His scene on one of the World Trade Center towers, as he talks about death while a jet plane can be heard over head (this was shot in the early 1990's) is creepy and fascinating.")

While the film itself was slow-moving and static, the characters seemed almost frozen and self-contained emotionally. What made them tick; what secrets were buried under their chilly exteriors? And that's part of what attracted me to the people who were depicted in the paintings Vermeer produced. Ah, the stories they could tell.

On my next visit to Manhattan, I decided that my mission was to try to see "all the Vermeers in New York"--that would be 7 out of his known surviving output of 35 paintings. I had, in my somewhat obsessive-compulsive way, relentlessly researched the subject and discovered that there were three Vermeers in the collection of the Frick Museum on East 70th Street (near Fifth Avenue): Officer and a Laughing Girl; Mistress and Maid, and Girl Interrupted at Her Music. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection contains four more: Woman with the Lute, The Allegory of the Faith, A Woman Asleep, and Portrait of a Young Woman. Unfortunately, only two of The Met's were on exhibit during that visit; the other two were on loan. But, mercifully for me, the Frick does not allow it's collection to be lent, so all three of theirs were on view! They were smaller than I had expected, and little jewels of chioroscuro.