At a press conference on Friday, the museum shared the finding that a multidisciplinary team of curators, restorers and scientists determined that the painting was the work of “a fellow Vermeer – not the Dutch artist himself”.
Vermeer (1632-1675) is one of the world’s most beloved painters. In normal times, people come to the National Gallery expecting to see all kinds of vermiers on display. It’s hard to justify moving it to a preservation lab for more than a day or two. But the epidemic is different.
According to the curator Marjorie (Betsy) WisemanMs., head of the National Gallery’s Northern European Paintings Department, the extended closure of the museum means she and her colleagues “have a unique opportunity to remove the four paintings from the wall and place them in the restoration lab at the same time.”
“Other people embroidered and learned to bake bread,” she joked in an interview on Thursday. “This was our pandemic project.”
The extraordinary aura around Vermeer’s name was made even brighter by the fact that his production was minimal. There is only About 35 Vermeer paintings In the world. This partly explains why – though revered during his lifetime – for two centuries Vermeer was largely forgotten until his rediscovery in the 19th century. (“Girl with a Flute” was discovered in 1906 and donated by Joseph Widener to the NGA in 1942.)
Today, Vermeer is not only loved but loved. His life, about which little is known, is the subject of best-selling novels and Movies. But the panels themselves float above the noise and hustle. Incredibly quiet, exquisitely colourful, and stunningly intimate, it serves as a rebuke to the noise and chaos of modern life and a salve for information age sensibilities.
With time and space in the lab, NGA researchers, led from the scientific side by the great imaging scientist John Delaney, exposed the plates to sophisticated imaging. They were building on a rich history of Vermeer’s research in the NGA, notably by Melanie Gifford, a currently retired scholar in rationalizing painting techniques. It wasn’t clear at first that they would come up with anything new.
But what resulted, according to Wiseman, was a “massive increase in our understanding of Vermeer’s working process.” This leap in knowledge, she said, “enabled us to determine that [‘Girl With a Flute’] Not by Vermeer.”
Gifford analyzed small samples taken from NGA’s Vermiers, so there was already a lot of data about the plates, Delaney said. Now, a combination of microscopic analysis and advanced imaging has allowed Delaney and fellow imaging scientist, Kathryn Dooley, to map the materials Vermeer used. Spectroscopic techniques included X-ray fluorescence imaging and reflective hyperspectral imaging, which uses a light-dispersing spectrometer to collect and process information from across the electromagnetic spectrum.
Visitors to the new NGA exhibition,”Vermeer secrets(October 8 – January 8), can see some of what the research team revealed before the works It is sent to the largest retrospective of Vermeer ever at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (February 10 – June 4). The display includes the four NGA Vermeer paintings (now three) and two 20th-century fakes that are still in the gallery’s collection. (It’s hard to say how these hilarious parodies were taken as seriously as Vermeerz.)
The research team, which also included Alexandra Libby, Dina Anchin, Lisha Deming Glensmann, and Gifford, began by looking at the two masterpieces whose attribution to Vermeer was never in question. study “writing lady” And the “woman holding a scaleFirst, Delaney said, “it was a great way to establish a baseline for his practice.”
Among the discoveries was that Vermeer was more active in parts of his process than previously thought. He cleaned his first coats with surprising speed and freedom, at one point even applying a coat of a copper-containing substance known to speed up the drying process, as if in a hurry to move on to the next.
“We have this impression that Vermeer is a master of these smooth, silky surfaces, where you can’t define individual brush strokes,” Wiseman said. “But then you look at how he set up that glow on the back wall [depicted in “Woman Holding a Balance”] It is an exciting and powerful brush. You have a sense of the artist really following through with that.”
The research team then turned to the two smaller and more problematic works, “The Girl with the Red Hat” and “The Girl with the Flute”. The two paintings have always been considered a pair. Both are “tronies” – the Dutch term for describing heads that were not portraits of specific people, but studies of species, often idealistic or particularly expressive. (Vermeer”The girl with the pearl earringis the most famous example.)
There were two main ways: a “girl with the flute” was made by an artist—perhaps a student, apprentice in training or an amateur taking lessons from a teacher—who, in Delaney’s words, “understands the technique but has very limited skill in its execution.”
The research team also concluded that Vermeer may have painted “The Girl in the Red Hat” two years later than previously thought, in a period – 1669 rather than 1666-1667 – when he was experimenting with new colors and applying slightly bolder paint.
Tranch NGA shows young women with similar faces and expressions. Both subjects wear unusual hats and large pearl earrings. The backgrounds of both are drawn fairly succinctly. Both show tapestry on the wall and a chair with lion head ends. And both are painted on wooden planks, which is very unusual for Vermeer.
Despite all of that, scholars have long doubted whether Vermeer painted “The Girl with the Flute.” It just doesn’t look good enough. The transitions from light to dark, especially around the face, looked awkward and sudden. Green shades were applied intensely, creating what Vermeer’s Secrets wall decal calls “a speckled appearance under the nose and along the jawline.”
In the 1990s, NGA curator Arthur Willock, a recognized Vermeer expert and recently retired, designated the song “Girl With a Flute” as “attributed to Vermeer”. This designation, Wiseman said, was Willock’s “way of explaining why he appears generally like Vermeer but qualitatively not up to standard”.
Most scholars agreed, although Willock’s fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the late Walter Liddck, asserted that it was likely Vermeer, and Willock himself later changed his position, saying, “I have concluded that the removal of ‘Girl with the Flute’ from Vermeer’s work was too severe given the complex preservation issues surrounding this picture.” (Erosion on the surface of the plate made it particularly difficult to study.)
The new analyzes seem to have confirmed the skeptics. “At nearly every level in the board’s composition, it’s close,” Wiseman said, “but no cigar.” “
The research team revealed that while both panels had some of the same materials (as Gifford had previously demonstrated), the coating’s handling is quite different. Where the technique on “Girl With the Red Hat” is subtle and subtle, the application of paint to “Girl With a Flute” is relatively coarse and rough.
Instead of using coarse ground pigments for the lower layers and finely milled pigments for the final layers (as Vermeer did), “Girl With a Flute” painters did the opposite, giving the surface a grainy quality. There are even slivers of bristles in the layers of the painting’s surface, indicating that the artist was using an old or poorly made brush.
“The artist has a conceptual understanding of how Vermeer constructs his paintings but cannot manage the finesse,” Weizmann said.
There are also defects in the undercoating. For example, in some blue areas, there are “traction cracks” indicating that the surface coating dries before the lower layers. “An experienced artist knows how to mix his pigments so that doesn’t happen,” Wiseman said.
Likewise, in areas where white pigment was applied, the artist used too much medium (oil) in the lower layers, causing them to dry in a wrinkled fashion. The artist had to scrape the wrinkles down to get a smoother surface to apply the final coat of paint.
“These are beginner mistakes,” Wiseman said. “Vermeer knows why he does things. He knows what the end result will be, whereas with this artist, you don’t have that sense of understanding.”
If all this is true, it changes our understanding of Vermeer, who has long been considered a solitary wolf operating without assistants or students. The question becomes: Who was this artist who had access to Vermeer’s studio and used many of the same materials? And what might one day be discovered about their relationship?
New discoveries are revealing, but there will always be an air of mystery around Vermeer.