February 9, 1996
PAUL SOLMAN ON THE VERMEER EXHIBIT
The works of Johannes Vermeer, the 17th century Dutch painter, have taken the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. by storm this winter. Thousands of people from all over the world stood in long lines, often in bone-chilling temperatures, to see the most Vermeer paintings ever assembled in one spot. Paul Solman of WGBH-Boston toured the exhibit and his report re-aired Friday night on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
Click here to see Paul's report on the Mystery of Vermeer.
A question from Louis Foster of Valparaiso, IN
My wife and I drove all the way from Indiana to see the
Vermeer Exhibit ten days ago. It was well worth the drive.
We both thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the feminine
intimacy achieved in many of the paintings. When we saw the
crowds we said, "Three cheers for government support of the
Paul Solman responds:
Well, it's not clear this calls for a response but I
suppose silence might seem as rude online as in person. The "feminine
intimacy" issue is an interesting one: a book about Vermeer by Lawrence
Gowing, considered a classic, waxes poetic on the subject, in ways I for one
find a bit old-fashioned. But it's worth a look if you're becoming a Vermeer
fanatic, or just want to remember the show by reading about the pictures in
it. A more recent book that was on sale at the Vermeer exhibit, "The Study of
Vermeer" by Edward Snow, goes into detail in a more contemporary vein, and in
fact begins with a discussion of Degas, HIS fascination with women in intimate
poses and settings, and the (I guess) current controversy over whether or not
Degas' vision was exploitive.
A question from Rick Sigrist of LaRue, Ohio
Beauty is timeless.Great art spans hundreds of years and
one never grows weary of admiring the genuis of artists!!!
Paul Solman responds (although, again, he's not sure if the writer wants him
One of the fascinating things about Vermeer is his relative obscurity
from the mid-1600s to the mid-1800s. It seems to be a function of several
facts: the small size of his output (60 paintings, tops), modesty perhaps (he
may have had a glowing reference to him excised from a famous poem about
Delft), the neglect of the guy who wrote the supposedly definitive book about
Dutch art of the period (kind of the Vasari of the Netherlands). Some scholars
think the idea of Vermeer's "rediscovery" is overrated (especially the Holland
half of the team that wrote the current show's catalogue), but for a guy who's
now rated among the West's handful of greatest painters, Vermeer was clearly
underappreciated for most of the hundreds of years since he worked.
A question from Nancy Brigham of Detroit, MI
(Doggedly and by now superfluously) Paul Solman responds yet again:
still was having the Vermeer exhibit to ourselves after hours, with the
ever-so-knowledgeable and enthusiastic curator Arthur Wheelock as guide. Such
opportunities remind me of the privilege (in all senses of the word) of being
a journalist, whether the subject is a master painter from Delft, the
Netherlands, of the 17th century or the political shenanigans going on in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, circa 1971, when I was first smitten by journalism.
A question from Allen Rein of Louisville, Kentucky
The report on Vermeer and the success of the Vermeer exhibit
was excellent. Yet, it left me wondering. I'm not questioning
Mr. Solman's editorial decisions, but why did you select the
pieces you did? What was it about those works that drew you
in? Are there any other works you did not have a chance to
discuss that you could talk about?
Again thank you for this report and I look forward to your
next report whether it be on the debt ceiling or Picasso.
(Finally called on to do so) Paul Solman responds:
Great question. The answer
is that we wanted to stick with one painting long enough to let Wheelock go
into some depth. The question was: Which? "The Music Lesson" had the virtue of
being analyzable at many levels: "realistic," "constructed" (the shadows; the
woman looking two ways at once), "abstract" (the tiles). It also had a bit of
historical glamor: purchased by King George III, borrowed from Buckingham
Palace. In fairness, Wheelock discussed several other paintings at great
length - the taping with him was from 7:30pm to about 11 at night. But with
none of them was there as much variety of comment and insight. Or so we felt.
Producer/editor Lori Cohen DID manage to get in most of the show's paintings.
But remember, this is TV; even in the time-luxurious world of the NewsHour, we
had about 8 minutes and there were 22 paintings, plus soundbites from
visitors, plus wide shots to establish the setting, plus Wheelock, etc.
As for other works to talk about, sure, I could talk about them. But I'd
mainly be repeating stuff from the catalogue and other sources, all of which
are available. You'd be way better off getting and reading them. As I
responded above, it's a great way to keep the show inside your head.
Click to see a Forum Menu.