Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting Inspiration and Rivalry by Adriann E.Waiboer is a wonderful catalogue published by Yale University Press in occasion of an art exhibit organized in Paris, Dublin, Washington with 180 paintings by Johannes Vermeer the most estimated and enigmatic under many aspects Dutch painter of this genre, the genre painting, including stunning works by Gerrit Dou, Gerard Ter Borch, Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch, Gabriel Metsu and Frans van Mieris. These painters lived and worked during the mid of 1650 producing wonderful masterpieces of class and beauty.
When I opened this book I started to look at all these paintings. Impressed by their fascination.
Of course they were not just paintings of Johannes Vermeer and what at first you notice is that they're like a wonderful picture taken in 1650's although it's not static.
There is movement in these paintings, apart in two paintings where I didn't see "the soul", I couldn't capture their essence just immobility, without any warm desire of communicating a message, that it is after all the principal characteristic of these painters and their work: Officer writing a letter and Woman sealing a letter by Gerard Ter Borch.
For the rest if you give at your fantasy the temptation of adding it, you can see a scene in motion.
These paintings are in fact in motion, they want to give you the idea of movement and of a busy life: the action captured by these painters (in general the painting realized in three phases) could be reading, working,drinking a glass of wine but what you will notice is a characteristic treat in all of them: their being precious, sophisticated and elegant, realistic.
Not only: an element keep alive these paintings more than another one. The eyes of the people portrayed in these paintings. Amazingly vivid, they look at you as if they would be still alive, as if they would want to establish a connection, and when a person doesn't directly look in the direction of the painter, there is movement, an action in progress; there is life.
In general the society portrayed by the genre painters the richest one, (it's also understandable the main reason; a rich man who wanted a painting would have surely paid the painter and well it says a lot for a living, you know) but when their work put in light poor people and conditions in which they lived in they tried all their best for giving a worst idea of the condition of poor people.
In the opposite case, when they portrayed rich people there was a maniacal enrichment of the scenario chosen by the painter for the realization of the portraits.
Being cold places I don't doubt for a second that a rich house was plenty and warm in Holland and beautiful, colored and plenty of life.
Men in these portraits all culturally elevated. They could be astronomers, geographers, writers.
The ability of capturing so realistically with bright colors, but also with a game of light and darkness (chiaro-scuro in italian) people and environment can be seen in Frans van Mierris "Self Portrait as a Painter" where luminosity is reached thanks to the dress of the painter, a white paper and a table top or in Gerrit Dour, a lover of big chromatic contrasts in his painting: "Woman drawing wine from a barrel" by the two candles in the room or in Gerrit Dou "Scholar interrupted at his writing", where the elements donating at the painting luminosity are a book with its white pages and a globe in a location rich of warm elements.
There is a complete obscurity behind Gerrit Dou's Astronomer by Candlelight. Dou loves obscurity and lightness and the richness and profundity given by the mixture of these two elements. The young man's left hand is in a big globe, while with the right hand he keeps elegantly a candle for reading a book. Other elements in the painting are a bottle, a sandglass, a statue with an angel, heavy curtains.
These elements were important for giving at the painting the importance of the "whole" and the idea of that age, and that cultural moment.
We speak of genre painters, so "reporters-painters" I would call them. Yes, because that painters interested to report in canvas for people of their time and later for the posterity the exact idea of what it was going on in their times and in their cities. Just, they didn't use a notebook and a pen but brush, colors and a canvas.
Before the arrival of photography, these painters to me have taken real pictures of real life, because these paintings communicate more than what you can imagine.
Details surrounding the main character are precious, rich, indispensable for the creative process of painting.
Women were portrayed in a rich dress during their morning toilet, or busy doing something else like a domestic work or while they were writing, maybe a love letter, maybe just a letter to a friend.
It's curious the different vision by Vermeer in comparison with the other painters regarding letters and girls: Vermeer tend to see a peaceful face in the writing-girl the other painters realistically loved to portraying women in search for words, women in search for inspiration.
Grace, decorum, elegance treat that you will find in all these painting.
You won't find animals in Vermeer's painting, while most of the other painters were intrigued and fascinated by the arrival of parrots, and they loved to portraying girls with a parrot gently kept in one of their hands or with little dogs in some domestic scene.
It's stunning to see the realism of these scenes.
One third of the paintings by Vermeer involve musical instruments.
The fascination by Vermeer for keeping more precious a girl? The use of pearls, an element used also by his contemporaries, because they were a novelty and pearls one of the most elegant jewel for women, plus, a precious dress, a painting behind the girl located in the room, heavy curtains.
Enjoy this catalogue!
These Dutch painters deserve attention for the peaceful moments they present us and for the great legacy they left us.
I thank Yale University Press for this book.