The Appreciation of Vermeer in the twentieth-Century America

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Marguerite Glass do close the edition of the Cambridge Companion to Vermeer telling the readers about the influence of Vermeer throughout the time within an American context.

Should anyone have ever questioned that Johannes Vermeer is an artist of international repute, as beloved in the United States as he is in The Netherlands or France, one only needed to have been in Washington, D.C., during the winter of 1995-6 to have witnessed the extraordinary response to the Vermeer exhibition when it was shown at the National Gallery of Art.

What happened during the course of the 20th century to place Vermeer at the center of such a cultural phenomenon?

The fact that he died penniless in 1675 seems to have been less his own fault than the collapse of the art market that ensued after the invasion of The Netherlands by the troops of Louis XIV in 1672. Finally, his quiet, intimate scenes of domestic life are unremarkable is subject matter. hardly the type of image that would seem to excite a late-twentieth-century society that all too often seems to crave the new, the exotic and the unusual.

So, why did people stand in line in the snow and ice for hours outside the National Gallery to have an opportunity to see this small group of masterpieces? There were a lot of reasons, to be sure.

I, too, was first attracted by Vermeer’s work because of his perfect composition and the harmony oh his colors. But as I grew older and matured, I began to sense that his work could help me understand my life experience.

Vermeer’s images are so distinctive that once seen, they are never forgotten. With knowing one, there is this powerful urge to see another, and yet another, for one can never tire of the beauty of his light and color, or the sense of peace that his works bring.

And how is that Vermeer’s genius has entered into the mainstream of cultural life?Certainly, color reproductions of his paintings have brought them to a wide public and have helped make Vermeer’s art known to many who have never actually stood in front of one of his works.

The availability of reproductions, however, is only part of the answer for his broad appreciation of Vermeer in America at the end of the 2oth century.

The discovery of Vermeer’s unique qualities as an artist coincided in America with what Anette Scott has defined as a “Holland Mania”.

They suggest not only how directly Vermeer’s paintings spoke to this generation of art lovers but also how his works fascinated viewers because they could not be precisely defined and described. Most important, these writers recognized Vermeer genius lay in his ability to fuse the specifics of Dutch realism with the universal and the spiritual.

The situation, however, was rapidly changing, at least on th East Coast where a number of Vermeer’s rare paintings began to enter the American collections.

The period of the Holland Mania coincided with the rise of an extraordinary breed of American collectors intent upon enriching their lives with masterpieces of European art. The Concert at Fenway Court, Isabella Stewart Gardner’s museum, influenced a number of Boston painters.