May 23, 2011
The painting I have been working on , The Music Lesson, has not only became an inspiration for other Dutch painters, but it has also served as an inspiration for many poets and writers.
As an example of that here we have an interesting poem written by Mary Oliver in 1978 on which the author tries to tell us the story that is narrated in Vermeer´s painting from the point of view of the cavalier:
Sometimes, in the middle of the lesson,
we exchanges places. She would gaze a moment at her hands
spread over the keys; then the small house with its knickknacks,
its shut windows,
its photographs of her sons and the serious husband,
vanished as new shapes formed. Sound
became music, and music a white
scarp for the listener to climb
alone. I leaped rock over rock to the top
and found myself waiting, transformed,
and still she played, her eyes luminous and willful,
her pinned hair falling down –
forgetting me, the house, the neat green yard,
she fled in that lick of flame all tedious bonds:
supper, the duties of flesh and home,
the knife at the throat, the death in the metronome.
As it can be seen in the first lines of this poem, it is opened with a reference to the music teacher that is sitting at the piano who is explaining that sometimes he changes his place and lets his student to play the instrument to enjoy the music.
In the second and on the third stanzas we find how the music teacher is lost in her lonely, loveless and ordered life and that she finds expression in her music, an intimacy that exists nowhere else in “the small house with its knickknacks/ its shut windows”.
In the last stanza we have the image of that this woman lives in a tidy world and that she plays music to escape the entrapment of her life, to allow for a moment of passion to be present.
-This Writing Life: “Music Lesson” by Mary Oliver 1978. Retrieved 22 May from http://noelduffy.blogspot.com/2011/02/music-lesson-by-mary-oliver-1978.html
May 22, 2011
While I was doing some research, I came across this mystery novel which deals with the theft of one of Vermeer’s paintings: A Lady Writing, which is actually the painting I have been working on the whole semester.
Chasing Vermeer is a children mystery novel dealing with the theft of Vermeer’s A Lady Writing written by Blue Balliet and illustrated by Brett Helquist. The novel is set in Hyde Park, Chicago. The thief responsible for the disappearance of the painting claims that he will not give the painting back to the museum unless the community figures out which paintings under Vermeer’s name were actually painted by him. As a consequence, the community and, especially two children, Calder and Petra, start examining art more carefully in order to get the painting back.
The themes of this novel are various: art, chance, coincidence, deception, and problem-solving. What is more, Balliet asserts that the central message is that kids are powerful thinkers whose ideas are valuable and that adults do not have the answer to every single question.
As for its critical reception, Chasing Vermeer has received many positive reviews and, in fact, it has awarded in several occasions, for instance, the Agatha Award for Best Juvenile mystery novel in 2005 or the Chicago Tribune Prize for Young Adult fiction in 2004. In 2004, Warner Brothers bought the rights to make a film based on Balliet’s Chasing Vermmer.
I think that the author took a wise decision when he realized he wantes to write a book about art devoted to children. I think the plot is well-built and, what is more, the way the reader in involved in the story through the hidden messages provided by the illustrations can be very entertaining for children, since it makes them participate in the story.
- Chasing Vermeer. (2011, May 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:42, May 19, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chasing_Vermeer&oldid=427474268
- Chasing Vermeer. A mystery within as mystery. Retrieved, May 19, 2011, from http://www.ashlandschools.org/morgan_cottle/vermeer/
May 23, 2009
Afternoon light falls
on ochres and reds and pale golds.
Velvets and linens and wools
sway heavily in the light
breeze that passes through
this bower of abundance.
The letter she holds has been read before.
Pulling taut the wrinkled sheet she reads
again what she could now recite.
The word on which her gaze falls so intently
reach from the page like a familiar touch,
tender and faint as the delicate script
bleached by the light of this autumn afternoon.
Perhaps it is from an absent husband, running
the trade that brought these rugs a thousand miles,
and bought this fruit, best of harvest, for her table.
Perhaps not. It may be she who has gone away.
Given in marriage beyond what she knew to hope for,
taken from the sound of known feet on the village path,
from a circle of friends gathered to gossip
at the brookside after the day’s tasks,
from the mother who writes her now, wondering
whether, in her grand house, among her servants
and soft garments, she still cares for news from home.
Not even her mother knows how much
she cares: how she is glad that the old, blind cobbler’s
young apprentice is kind to him, and repairs
without a word the vagrant stitches on sole and tongue,
and calls him father; that her sister is learning
to weave and has taken her place reading verses
after the evening meal; that the little hunchback still rides
on the peddler’s cart and laughs back
at the children who laugh at him.
The streets of this city are silent as her ear strains
for familiar sounds. No woman’s voice summons her
in this household where, as yet, there is no babe
to cry or nurse to scold. The man who adores her
knows her only as his lady.
None of them knows how she would like, some evenings,
to lay her coiffed head on a breast broader and softer than her own;
to bake, morning, in a kitchen crowded with bowls and chatter;
to strip off her fine-stitched shoes and wade in a muddy brook
in secret, skirts gathered, with a giggling friend
in the heat and falling light of the afternoon.
In Quiet Light: Poems on Vermeer’s Women by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
April 17, 2009
This painting is part of a group of works painted by Vermeer in the late 1650s which mark the start of his mature period. Other works of this period include Officer and Laughing Girl (New York, The Frick Collection), The Milkmaid (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), and The Glass of Wine (Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemaldegalerie). In these paintings the artist depicts the corner of a relatively large room which is lit through a window on the left side. This compositional formula is inspired by the work of Pieter de Hooch (upper right), who nonetheless differs from Vermeer in locating his figures closer to the foreground. Vermeer’s figures at this period are smaller than those in his earlier works, while his technique is more precise.
The figure in the background of this simple and ordered interior rests his head on his hand in a melancholy attitude, while in the foreground a young woman takes a wine glass which an elegantly dressed man hands to her. The young woman’s smile and the man’s attitude indicate that we are witnessing a scene of seduction, and that the girl is largely accepting her admirer’s advances.
Also starting at this period is a greater attention to the way in which light falls on the objects and different materials, highlighting the textures (second upper right). Along with the characteristically self-absorbed character of his figures, the most famous characteristic of Vermeer’s work is its lifelikeness, the result of a complex and exquisite exercise in the transformation of reality. Some aspects of this painting allow us to approximate the way in which the artist achieved these ends. The lower frame of the window, for example, directs the spectator’s gaze towards a chair which extends the gaze further so that we arrive at the strongly, illuminated letter which the young woman is holding. The reflection of the girl in the window emphasizes the importance of the letter, which becomes the psychological axis of the painting. As in other works by Vermeer, the chair acts to clarify the spatial relations between the elements in the room, in this case the table and the end wall. The open window which reflects the girl’s face projects a slight shadow on the wall, echoing its shape and also helping to define the location of the girl’s face. The angle of the fruit bowl and the girl’s forearm are parallel and thus visually related, so that we connect the golden sleeve of the girl with the large green curtain on the right. This type of formal relation between the elements in the painting defines its visual rhythms, which the spectator becomes aware of in a slow and gradual process.
We know from x-rays that initially the end wall, just above and to the right of the young woman, had a painting of Cupid (the same one that appears in A Lady Standing at the Virginals), but that Vermeer eliminated this element in the final composition. This image would have made it clear that the content of the letter which the woman is reading is of an amorous nature. In its initial form, the vanishing point of the perspective would have been in the center of the lower part of the painting of Cupid, which would therefore have been a very important element in the painting. It is revealing of Vermeer’s working method that when he removed the painting he did not alter the scene further, other than adding the curtain on the right to balance the visual weight of the other side of the composition. The ability to express the emotions of his figures in a particular situation is one of Vermeer’s most unique characteristics. In this case, his decision to remove the painting of Cupid from the end wall results in an exceptionally evocative scene; nothing distracts us from the painting’s message, which is the idea of communication with an absent loved one.
At the time when this painting was created in the late 1650s, Vermeer was in the process of changing his pictorial technique. Although in some earlier paintings we see the appearances of small dots of light, this technique, which functions to momentarily detain our gaze on specific areas of the painting, becomes ever more widespread in his work. The technique, which was possibly inspired by the images produced by an instrument known as a camera obscura and also has precedents in the work of artists such as Willem Kalf or Willem van Aelst would soon become one of Vermeer’s most distinctive characteristics.
The idea of including a curtain in the painting which seems to form part of the space occupied by the spectator has numerous precedents and became popular in Dutch art around the mid-17th century (lower right). This device was partially inspired by reality, as we know from inventories and from paintings of picture collections that some paintings, in particular the most important ones or those that depicted nudes, were covered with cloths.
There are also precedents for this in religious painting, indicating that curtains also added an effect of mystery and surprise to a scene, and contributed to its lifelikeness in that it confused the painted with the real space. The use of a cloth for illusionistic ends has an important classical precedent which Vermeer undoubtedly knew of Pliny the Elder’s anecdote in his Natural History in which he recounts that the Greek painter Zeuxis wished to prove his artistic superiority to his rival Parrhasius’ and thus painted some grapes which were so realistic that some birds attempted to peck at them. Parrhasius’ response was to paint a curtain over the picture which he did with such skill that Zeuxis tried to pull it back.
Alejandro Vergara, (2003) In Essential Vermeer. Retrieved April 17, 2009, from http://www.essentialvermeer.com
April 14, 2009
Jonathan Lopez is the author of The Man Who Made Vermeers (2008), a research work on Han van Meegeren and the illicit trade across Europe during the interwar period. The development of this book took Lopez to the Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain and the United States.
Newspaper and magazine reviews:
- Los Angeles Times. Review by Christopher Knight.
- Chicago Tribune. Review by Wendy Smith.
- A’n'B VIBE. Review by Meghan Masterson.
- Contentions. Review by Terry Teachout.
June 4, 2008
Apart from Katharine Weber and her book, there is another writer interested in Vermeer’s paintings. This author is Graham Burchell, poet and children’s writer well-known in England. His best tale is Chester and the Green Pig. However, I want to talk you about this author because he was also touched by the enchantment Vermeer reflected on his paintings.
I bought a small book of Vermeer’s paintings at a bargain price. I actually started reading it, and not just looking at the pictures. I was an art teacher for many years, but I knew very little about Johannes Vermeer. Nor does anyone else it seems. I was fascinated, firstly by the enigmatic nature of the artist and his work and secondly by the stunning beauty of his paintings. Hardly anything is known about Vermeer. He has thirty-five known paintings of which one is stolen, missing from a museum in Boston. Women and more significantly, women wearing pearls is an intriguing aspect of his work that seems to be largely about the place and plight of women in 17th century Holland. I became so absorbed by the artist, his work and his time that I resolved to write a poem about each one of his paintings. In all of the poems the speaker is a character (or in some cases – the character) in the work. This was often the woman or one of the women posing. Sometimes the woman was his wife or his daughter either talking directly to the reader or to Vermeer. Occasionally the speaker is a man. In two of the poems ‘The Procuress’ and ‘The Music Lesson’, the man in question is Vermeer himself.
Vermeer is the pinter of domestic scenes, and what Burchell tries is to paly with these themes, commenting on the details of the paintings that may have served of inspiration for the painter. More than that, in Burchell’s House of Martha and Mary, inspired by Vermeer’s painting, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, the characters are aware of themselves as existing within the confines of a painting. Burchell uses to have is characters comment in an ironic way on the situation they are living inside these paintings.
These poems, like Vermeer’s paintings, seek to capture close, intimate moments in the lives of ordinary people. Burchell’s intention is to create a real world betyond those pictures, a world in which the characters involved express their own real feelings, withouth feeling obligingness for those characters who are part of a masterpiece. The characters in the paintings are aware that they are characters in a painting.
The unique poem available is the one on The Milkmaid. Although this is not the painting I’ve chosen, I think it is interesting for my classmates to read this alternative poem:
The Milkmaid – c.1658 – 60I was going to do this in an accent
west country English
lots of ooz and arrz as burred
as sharp as blackberry thorns
or night cooled cider from a clay jug
all pickled pronouns and liberties
taken with doing words
dressed like a gert blue tit I be
what d’you wanna be painting I fer
down ‘ere with me serving bits
and pieces etcetera
but anyway I am Dutch and
you said you want to do me
with more dignity
there is grace in that simple
quiet act of pouring milk you said
strength in the straight white fall
and angle of my concentration
that makes me feel special
like a priest preparing communion
milk the wine
sincere food of devout thought
bread in a basket bread broken
rough-chin crusts snagging morning light
like chickens shaking rain
and you made this simple room
with its cool harvest tang
with its basket pail foot-warmer
nail-hooks and holes look special
the wall lit as a gargantuan pearl
I wrote it down somewhere yes
opalescent you called it
even painted a thin milk line
down my head and back said
it gives me monumental grandeur
said I was the embodiment
of the spiritual maid
and for all that sir
whatever it means I thank you.
June 3, 2008
As part of this subject we were asked to write a piece of literary work, finding the inspiration in the painting we have chosen. However, I think I am not able to overcome Weber’s work, a writer named by Granta to the controversial list of 50 Best Young American Novelists in 1996.
The Music Lesson was published in 1999, and up to now it has been published in eleven foreign languages (not in Spanish). In the words oh Katharine:
‘ve had in mind a story about a woman alone in a remote Irish cottage with a stolen painting since I first traveled to Ireland in 1976, on my honeymoon. In the tiny fishing village where we spent two rainy weeks, there was still much talk about the discovery and arrest, two years before, of the Anglo-Irish woman who had rented a local cottage in order to hide a cache of paintings stolen for ransom by the IRA from the Beit Collection in County Wicklow (a theft that made the Guinness Book of World Records for record value of stolen artworks at that time).
Among those paintings was a Vermeer. I remember tramping down a muddy lane in order to peer into the windows of what locals still called “the picture cottage.” At the time, I was intrigued by the notion of this woman in solitude at the edge of the sea with some of the great paintings of the world. Did she ever look at them, I wondered. What did they mean to her? The facts of the actual case have never been of enormous significance to me. Over the next twenty years, what stayed with me were those questions.
In 1986, my husband and I bought a little house in the same village — and I can see “the picture cottage” from my window. We spend time there with our two children in the summer, but I also spend several weeks alone in Ireland each year, and it is there that I have done some of my most concentrated writing, and it is there that I began to write The Music Lesson.
The story is then based on a true story happened on Friday, April 26, 1974, when a young woman knocked on the door of Russborough House in County Wicklow. Seconds later she was joined by three men brandishing revolvers, and together they stole 19 paintings from their frames. Among these pictures there were a Goya, three Rubens, two Gainsboroughs, and the jewel of them all, Vermeer’s Lady Writing a Letter With Her Maid. The total value of the haul was set in 8 million pounds.
The pintings were early restored to their original place, but his owner, Sir Alfred Beit, gave some of these masterpieces to the National Gallery of Ireland. However, this was not the unique adventure the Vermerr’s peinting had to live, because it was stolen one more time. In 1986 Vermeer’s Lady Writing a Letter With Her Maid was stolen, and it was found in September 1993 (7 years after the robbery) in the trunk of a rented car at Antwerp AirportThe travelling Vermeer was scratched and dented.
Weber’s The Music Lesson is, then, inspired by the everyday view of that cottage rented by a thief in order to hide one of the best paintings in history. she tell the reader the story of Patricia Dolan, who is alone with a stolen Vermeer painting in an Irish cottage by the sea. How she got here is part of the story she tells; about her father, a Boston cop; the numbing loss of her daughter; and her charming Irish cousin, who has led her to this high-stakes crime.
The Music Lesson has been awarded with different honors, Among them, the New York Times Book Review Notable Book, the Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year or the Chautauqua Institution Literary Circle. selection. There are favourable critiism on the book: the New York Times says of it that it is “affecting and elegant… Weber astutely explores the gap between perception and reality”.
For further information, see http://www.katharineweber.com/books/ml_about.html
To read a good piece of criticism, see The New York Times on the Web