May 29th, 2013
I came into the DeYoung expected to be taken away by The Girl with a Pearl Earring, which came true in the end, but I was also surprisingly inspired by Rembrandt early sketches – much more than his later softer work in contrast to many other famous artists – and the dramatic and vivid coloration of Ruysch’s flower paintings.
I am someone who typically prefer sculpture than painting (ironic, considering I have never sculpted once in my life, but have painted and draw frequently as a teen) but Vemeer’s painting have always fascinated me. I loved that airy lightness, that realism, that sense of being in an everyday life scenery. When I went to DeYoung Museum for its Girl with sPearl Earring special exhibition, I have expected that too. The Girl with a Pearl Earring is often remembered by my modern generation as the name of a book, movie, a famous painting centered on a single pearl earring.
Reality is a bit different. Away from the modern preconception of what The Girl with a Pearl Earring is, the painting’s most striking feature was what Vemeer was most noted for – light. The way that light hits the flesh, the smooth of the painting, that contrast and cleanness of the color – the painting was truly striking in person, but not merely for the pearl earring. No. The earring accents it, but what drawn my eyes the moment they met the painting is the face. It was the smoothness of her skin, the glow of her cheek, and the close-to-real life facial expression.
Before going to exhibition, I went to the Docent’s lecture first, and I am glad I did, for what she informed me make sense after I saw the paintings of Vemeer. According to the excellent lecture by Rita Dunlay – which I sadly did not get to stay to the end because my ticket was schedule in the middle of her lecture – The Girl with a Pearl Earring was originally named as The Girl with Blue Turban. I do not know why historians changed the name – perhaps to bring some the elegance to the name? But I found that the later name is much more suitable when I saw the painting in person. The brilliant blue hue of her turban plays beautifully with the pink tint of the flesh and her yellow tone attire, and it brings out the light and airiness of the work. The earring adds a sense of elegance and femininity, and it also exhibits Vemeer’s talent in reflecting light in his work, but I don’t feel that it is the strongest features at all.
Rembrandt. Oh, I have to admit, I was never very fascinated with his work. It never connected to me on paper. But in person? His work in etching is unbelievable. I can’t helped but go up close to it and try to see the line work’s detail. I started drawing because I like the art in Japanese comic books, manga, then later on I began studying architecture because I like drafting. While I love color, the more art I do, the more I realize I like line work. Seeing the detail and the precision of Rembrandt’s work and how it magically brings its object to life… I wished I had a microscope and could study them all day.
Typically, when I go to see painting in person, I try to step back to get an overall view – paintings, after all, were typically made to be seen in a distance. I can’t do that with Rembrandt. In fact, I have to get close with almost all the Dutch paintings and etchings. I quickly realized that the best way to observed them is to step a good distance away, then slowly get closer and closer to the work. The details and the stroke (or etch) works unrevealed themselves only as you get closer. As I was observing the 16th century art works, a quote from a modern day show popped up in my head. The show is called “Once Upon A Time”, and one of its character, Bella, once said “To me, love is layered. Love is a mystery to be uncovered. I could never truly give my heart to someone as superficial as he.” The quotes talks about love to a person, but it applies so well to the attitude of Dutch painters and what their paintings bring. Their paintings are layered. Their paintings are mysterious. They are something that must be observed slowly and repeatedly to be truly appreciated. It is not a mere superficial beauty that can see though just by walking by.
Ah, I am feeling so poetic and so happy now. Nevertheless, let me move on from my musings to… my prizes from the museum!
Mini puzzles! I got one last time for the Italy exhibition, but that one was far too big, and I have to say that I didn’t like the theme of the paintings. This one though, I love both of them. I can’t wait to put them together. They were, in fact, my favorite paintings from the exhibition outside of the etching works. I can’t believe my luck! The left is The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius. The right, as everyone probably recognized, is Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer. They are wooden puzzles sized to 82mm x 120 mm. Considering that I have just talked about the mystery of Dutch paintings, I can’t think of a better way to remember them by putting puzzles of their paintings together.
Two postcard of another two works that I particularly like. On the left is The Large Cat by Cornlis Visscher. The museum display says the cat is resting, but as a gardener, I can’t help but wonder if it is sniffing a cat mint… If you look at it closer, there is also a worry looking mouse in the back. Love the etch work. On the right is the famous Vase of Flowers by Rachel Ruysch. I have always thought his work is beautiful when it is show in books. But seeing it in person… wow. It is not just the realism and the deep meaning of time passage hidden in the pattern, but… this definitely CANNOT be translated and expressed through reprints in books and even in my postcard. The color’s vividness draws a viewer’s eye right to the center of the painting. The white petals is practically glowing. My postcard and all the images I have seen in books don’t even come close to the real work. Amazing. Truly amazing. Indeed, amazing is the perfect word to describe my trip to DeYoung’s special exhibition today.