Vermeer: The art of the ordinary


On 10 February, the Rijksmuseum opened its first retrospective exhibition of Johannes Vermeer. 

Comprising 28 paintings, this show is the most complete overview of the work of Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675). Seven of the paintings will be on view in Amsterdam for the first time in over 200 years. Tickets are already rarer than hen’s teeth and currently there are no more tickets available. However, one can only hope that the exhibition, due to close by 4 June, will somehow find a way to extend its allotted time. 

The only previous monographic Vermeer exhibition ran from 1995 to 1996 and was mounted by the National Gallery of Art in Washington and Mauritshuis in The Hague. Vermeer’s works are normally scattered far and wide in 14 museums and private collections in seven countries. It’s difficult to describe why Vermeer is so unique. The artist is famous for his realistic portrayals of calm domestic scenes and the unparalleled light, clarity and colour of his paintings. 

“This show is the most complete overview of the work of Johannes Vermeer”

In 2017, Ireland’s National Gallery, which owns Vermeer’s Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid, hosted an exhibition exploring the network of relationships between Vermeer and Dutch genre painters of the period, providing insight into how Vermeer and his contemporaries compared. While there were no doubt other great painters at that time, Vermeer’s work still stands out, at least in part because of his singular understanding of composition. 

The exhibition is designed by the French architect and designer Jean-Michel Wilmotte. The velvet décor of the exhibition in intense green, aubergine and blue draws from Vermeer’s signature compositions. 

If you are unable to find a ticket, there is an impressive digital experience, “Closer to Johannes Vermeer ” that can be accessed online. Narrated by Stephen Fry it offers a rare opportunity to see detailed images of each picture and compare recurring motifs throughout Vermeer’s paintings: pearls, yellow jackets, curtains, maps: