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In person; there is no substitute

April 10, 2017

 

 

 

 

It's not fair to "View of Delft", really, that the curators of the Mauritshuis (just learned that it's pronounced "mawr-its-hyse") hung this exquisite and quiet piece across the room from the super-nova "Girl With a Pearl Earring." But more on that painting later. 

 

It seems as though "View of Delft" depicts a scene right after a storm has passed. Perhaps there's some personal symbolism here? 

 

In photos this painting looks like a moody, well-composed and contemplative piece, a meditation on city life, conversation, social industry and perhaps commerce. It appears that only the water is a shiny surface but that couldn't be less true. 

 

Up close, much of the image is bedizened with sparkles, presaging pointillism Seurat-like. The recently rained-on rooftops glisten, the wet bricks of the buildings glimmer, the lacquered panels on the boats shimmer. Distant details resolve into abstractions of highlights, unresolvable unless observed from a distance from the painted surface. 

 

If ever there were an argument for Vermeer having utilized to great effect the sophisticated optics available at that time, this painting could be the touchstone for discussion. The human eye simply does not see things the way they are painted here, but glass lenses do. 

 

If I were to attempt to paint this subject, when my eyes moved from the beach in the foreground to the rooftops in the background, they would focus crisply on the image and I'd paint it as I saw it; in focus. 

 

But Vermeer was no ordinary observer. As objects recede in this masterpiece, he painted them to go out of focus as they would in a camera lens with somewhat limited depth of field, reducing brilliant highlights to dancing dots of light. 

 

The effect is magical and part of Vermeer's genius, in my opinion, was to be able to see this new thing, this sparkle, and he was such a keen and humble and honest observer that he could decide to paint that effect instead of allowing his brain to correct for it, thereby adding significant vocabulary to the millennia-old non-verbal lexicon of painters. 

 

If you ever have an opportunity to see this painting in person, I think you will be awed at his technique, and like me, you may gain a new appreciation for seeing paintings in person. 

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