Monday, April 15, 2013

Seeing the Girl and Her Earring

Perhaps the hottest item on the traveling art show circuit this year is Jan Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring." It's normally housed in Mauritshuis in The Hague, Netherlands, but the museum is undergoing renovation, so apparently that was considered a good reason to send some of its best paintings on the road. "Earring" is currently on display in San Francisco and then will move on to Atlanta and, finally, New York City. I saw it in San Francisco recently.

The painting is around 350 years old and suffered some wear and tear as well as a restoration that wouldn't pass muster today. It went through another restoration in 1994. I failed to study the painting at really close range (the price one pay's at a popular exhibit that attracts lot of viewers), but my impression was that its surface was in pretty good shape.

As for the most recent restoration, here is some information and here is an interview with the man who directed it.

And it seems that there is more than one way to do a restoration. Nowadays it's possible to do the deed digitally, as this site indicates.

Below are before and after images of "Girl with a Pearl Earring." I'm not sure about the source of the "before" image -- there were dozens of duplicates on Google. The "after" image was taken from the Mautishuis web page, so I assume it is a correct representation. Click on the "Before" image to enlarge; the "After" is at maximum size.




Restorations are necessary at times. The question is whether or not they represent a "necessary evil," given that the hand of the restorer is not the same hand that painted the original version. I suppose we have no choice but to take the validity of restorations on faith.


Journeyman said...

That’s a dreadful reworking of an old master, they seem to have lost so much of the subtlety of the tone, nothing can now been done about it and the original work is gone for ever. It would be nice if they stoped this inappropriate revision of the masters but it seems unlikely, the so called restorers are a law unto them selves.

Hels said...

*sigh* Vermeer was special, wasn't he?

Vermeer created few works in his entire career, 32 perhaps 33. He worked and reworked his paintings till he was totally satisfied, but all those changes must have made the paintings vulnerable to the ravages of time.

Donald Pittenger said...

Journeyman -- I should have mentioned that the latest restoration was painted over a layer of removable varnish. This should allow future restorers to un-do it and do their work without damaging the underlying painting. So at least it was a thoughtfully done job. (I don't know if this was done for the initial restoration.)

Hels -- Another problem was that Vermeer was essentially forgotten from after his death until the 1800s, so this lapse resulted in some (most?) paintings being treated as nothing special. I suppose a few might have been thrown away. No way of knowing for sure how many he actually made. Which is why from time to time a putative Vermeer gets announced with great fanfare -- and usually is not accepted as genuine.

Sandy's witterings said...

I'd heard the the Girl with the pearl earing was turning up in San Francisco, so I guess it was doing a few other American stops too. Was it travelling alone or did it come with other paintings?
I was lucky, I got the painting all to myself for quite a few minutes. Late January though is perhaps not the busiest time for visiting The Hague.

Donald Pittenger said...

Sandy's -- I think it goes to 3 cities, but I forget which; that probably can be found on the Internet someplace.

Yes, there were other paintings including a Rembrandt self-portrait, a bird by Fabritius and the view of Delft by Vermeer.

I'll be in den Haag in September, but apparently will have to search the town for art displaced by the reconstruction.