Mystery surrounds Dutch master's works
A woman wearing a white blouse with sleeves reminiscent of glowing ore sits at a table writing a letter. What goes through her mind as she casts her eyes to the tip of the pen she uses to convey her thoughts? This is the scene depicted in "Woman Writing a Letter, with Her Maid," by the 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675).
The exhibition "Vermeer and the Delft Style" opened Saturday at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. Seven of only 30-odd works attributed to the painter, including five that are shown for the first time in Japan, are on display. The show that runs through Dec. 14 also exhibits works by other painters from the same period.
Vermeer completed "Woman Writing a Letter, with Her Maid" during his last years, just before he turned 40. It is also the one that he kept until his death, after which it changed hands to a baker as payment for a debt, and later moved from one place to another across Europe. It is also known for having been stolen twice, in 1974 and 1986, from the same mansion near Dublin.
According to "Nusumareta Feru-meru" (The stolen Vermeer, published by Shinchosha Publishing Co.) by Yuriko Kuchiki, a pinhole was found on the left eyelid of the woman during restoration work after the second theft. This led researchers to hypothesize that the painter stretched threads in a radial pattern from this point to accurately draw the painting in perspective. There are no established theories about the contents of the letter or the drawing technique. The maid, who must know the answers, offers us no clues as she only suggestively looks outside the window.
Most of Vermeer's works depicted everyday domestic life, with sunlight shining from the images' left.
They often feature such objects as musical instruments or maps. Without exception, the paintings are subdued and filled with gentle light. In his late years, the painter also hid allegorical meanings in his tranquil and eloquent works.
All of Vermeer's works that scattered across the world, including "The Concert," which was stolen from a Boston museum and remains missing, followed a turbulent course.
Many devoted fans spend a lifetime traveling the world to see his rare paintings. As it happens, 20 percent of his works are now in Tokyo at the height of summer heat. For people who decide to go on a "pilgrimage," it would be an ideal starting point.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 5(IHT/Asahi: August 6,2008)