Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum has announced a “first and last” exhibition of all of Johannes Vermeer’s paintings that are fit for travel, as its director has claimed that growing rivalry between museums makes such international cooperation unlikely in the future. .
Vermeer, whose most famous work is Girl with a Pearl Earring, dating from around 1665, is said to have painted 35 masterpieces, 23 of which were exhibited together 26 years ago at the Mauritshuis in La Hague.
Taco Dibbits, the director of the Rijksmuseum, said his institution would exceed that number, but he did not expect such a collection to be possible again due to the age of the works and the intense competition between galleries to attract visitors.
“What I see, if you look since the 1996 exhibition it’s getting harder and harder to get loans because Vermeer is such an iconic painter,” he said. “For museums, parting with Vermeer’s work is increasingly difficult. Because this is the first [for the Rijksmuseum], it created a kind of feeling that we have to do it now because it gives the opportunity to compare and study the works together.
“The pressure on museums to put on exhibitions is greater. There are more and more museums in the world and the works of the 17th century are fragile. There is more pressure on the work.
Vermeer, who lived and worked in Delft in the west of the Netherlands, is widely regarded as one of the best artists in history along with Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Picasso, but relatively little is known about him or on the subjects of his paintings. He was hardly known as an artist when he died at age 43 in 1675.
The latest technology in the study of art recently revealed the preparation and hard work he put into his paintings, as well as the expensive pigments that were used, explaining his relatively small work.
From February 10, 2023 to June 4, 2023, the Rijksmuseum will exhibit masterpieces such as Girl with a Pearl Earring, on loan from the Mauritshuis; The Geographer, from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt; Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid, from the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin; and Woman Holding a Balance, from the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
The girl reading a letter at the recently restored open window of the Old Masters Gallery in Dresden will be seen for the first time in the Netherlands. Dibbits said negotiations are underway with museums to try to get as many works as possible.
“I think it will be impossible to have them all, but we are getting a lot, more than I ever dreamed of having,” he said. “Some works are very fragile.
Dibbits said bringing the paintings together would provide an opportunity for “a whole new generation of researchers and audiences who have never been able to study Vermeer in this way.”
He said: “It’s incredibly difficult for researchers to move between museums to look at paintings, your brain has gone around a lot, it’s very difficult to actually compare.”
The Rijksmuseum has four masterpieces by Vermeer, including La Laitière and La Petite Rue.
Martine Gosselink, director of Mauritshuis, said: “The girl with the pearl earring is the most famous Dutch girl in the world. Yes, she will be sorely missed, but a Vermeer show without the girl just isn’t a Vermeer show.