Monday, October 25, 2004

Girl with a pearl earring etc.

It was after reading Girl with a Pearl Earring, that my interest in Vermeer was rekindled. Many years ago, at Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, I purchased a poster of the 'Little Street'. Somehow, the picture was so real that it almost seemed like a photograph. I was also attracted to LS due to that common architecture of Europe it depicts.

In LS, Vermeer depicts two houses, each shown partially. Running between these two houses and onto the street and perhaps into the canal, is a tiny drain. The two building, one of which is larger than the other, has a small passage between them. In the passage there is a woman bending over a broom. At the entrance of the next building sits a woman doing needle work. On the street in front of these two house and between these two houses sits a woman/child playing with another one, who is underneath a platform. In the painting, the facades of few buildings behind these houses can be seen. All the buildings are made out of exposed brick and hence are red in colour. However, the lower parts of the first two buildings are painted white, until the height a man could reach. The top edges of the white wash are irregular perhaps because one had to be on the toe to reach out to this height. Between these buildings is the typical dutch sky - patches of blue between white clouds. One gets to see these kinds of buildings at many common places in Europe, especially in the low income areas. The gables of the houses, tapering in steps instead of a straight line. This poster of LS has been languishing as a roll in some corner of our home. In the light of my new Vermeer interest, I should perhaps do something about it. Here is a picture of LS

Girl with a pearl earring , as a book was quite fascinating. The author Tracy Chevaliers took perhaps the most simple of Vermeers painting and wove, between facts of Vermeers life, a lovely story around it. Perhaps it is the most intriguing of all his painting that survived. Which incidentally are only 35 plus a recent find. When I saw the painting it was not at all that impressive. There were hardly any details on it. Actually, I peered hard to see that lock of hair which the author have given quite some significance to. In the book, the girl due to difficulties at home, is working as a maid in Vermeers house. Unlike his wife, she is extremely fascinated by his 'ways of seeing' and has a feel for the way Vermeer depicts his subjects. There is an attraction and respect between these two souls. V gives the task of mixing colour to her. A task that he has never entrusted anyone with. Soon, he wants to paint her with a large pearl earring of his wife. Without the wife's knowledge. All along the girl has her hair covered in white cloth but for this painting, he gives her some coloured cloth. As she was trying these head covers, he bursts into her corner of living to see her hair. The book says that, he then paints a tiny lock sticking out from the the blue and yellow headgear. So I peered hard at the painting to look for that lock of hair. Couldnt find it. I went very close to the painting only to have the security around me!

The other significant aspect of this painting is the pout. The book says that the girl has been asked to look over her left shoulder and part her lips. Kind of indicating her latent feeling of giving a 'wanting look' at the artist.
However, the electronic museum guide that was given free of charge tells me, that this 'girl' is a fictional character. No such person existed. It was quite frequent for artisits in those days to paints objects of interests from the mind without having any living models in the front of them. I even knew the french term for it, only for a second though. The book I think captures lot more from the painting than the actual painting itself.

What facinated me more was Vermeer's depiction of Delfts, called 'The View of Delfts' . In the museum, this paintin hangs right in the front of GwPE. Vermeer lived in Delfts. In days before Vermeer, Rotterdam was actually called Delft's Haven - harbour of Delfts. For many years, Delfts was the capital city of this area. The actual painting is much more interesting that what one sees in pictures. This painting depticts the view of the city as he sits from the other side of the river. In the foreground are few people and a boat. Because of the distance from the city, the sky forms a large part of the painting. The city is shown with the Rotterdam gate on the right side of the painting. One can also see the canals going into the city from the river. What is facsinating is that right over the front part of the depicted city is a cloud that block the sunlight. However, the city shown behind is still lit by the sun. So when on stands in front of the painting though the front part is well depicted with details, it is the well lit hinterground, devoid of any details that strikes the eye.

It is at times like this, in front of interesting paintings, that I wish I studied art history. I did not know such a faculty existed until I came to Europe in my mid twenties. Art history, in a way, also deals with sociology, architecture, psychology, and other aspects of human lifes that sensitive eys froze for us to feel and relive what they saw in their minds-eye. Sure, the reality is moulded into a figment of imagination by the artist. That, I think is the interesting part. Weaving a story around the forces that made the artist depict the reality in a way he see it. For me, no one seem to have done it as well as Tracy Chevaliars in her book. She took a tiny painting, which in fact was not even a reality and wove a good story around it. It certainly is a nice way of getting introduced to art. Those who have not read it and those who are interested in the seventeeth century life or art, should read it. I wonder how the movie was?

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