Vermeer and the Art of Solitude

VermeerSudip Bose at The American Scholar:

It wasn’t the concept of the blockbuster that I had found troubling 20 years ago, but the idea of making Vermeer the subject of such a show. Few artists seem more unsuited to a hurried and harried viewing experience. One must shut out the noise of the wider world to enter the mysterious worlds portrayed in his small canvases. Consisting of no more than a few figures, but typically showing just a solitary woman engaged in some domestic activity, these pictures are as tranquil as still lifes. A young woman pouring milk from a jug, reading a letter, holding a pitcher of water, making lace, or gazing into a mirror—Vermeer imbues these everyday rituals, by virtue of his mastery of color and the expressive possibilities of light, with great feeling and poetry. They are intimate, quiet scenes, and almost all of them are enigmatic in some way—to puzzle out their mysteries requires time and attention. InWoman in Blue Reading a Letter, for example, the questions come almost at once. Why are the woman’s pearls laid out on the table, partially covered by a sheet of paper? What does her letter say? What causes her to adopt that curious pose, lips parted, head tilted ever so slightly? Has the letter been sent by a lover, someone at sea perhaps, as suggested by the map of the Dutch states of Holland and West Friesland hanging behind her? Most compelling of all: Is the woman pregnant, as Vincent van Gogh had suggested in 1888? Or is her bulbous blue jacket simply typical of the oversized clothing worn by Dutch women in the 17th century, a time when pregnancy would not have been depicted in art? Nothing about this canvas—or Vermeer’s other paintings, for that matter—is easy or clear.

more here.