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This article is taken from PN Review 181, Volume 34 Number 5, May - June 2008.

A Dutch Master for our Times? Adam Czerniawski


Is Edward Hopper the Jan Vermeer for our times? If we exclude A View of Delft and A Street in Delft, Vermeer appears as a painter of interiors, specifically of women and men in rooms in Dutch homes. In these paintings the light always falls from a window on the left. No one ever looks out of these windows because the attention of those present is concentrated on what is happening inside: a young woman is trying on a necklace in front of a mirror; the lady of the house is reading a letter which a servant has just brought her; a teenager is having a music lesson; a girl is smiling at a young man sitting at table with her; a geographer is studying a map; a painter (Vermeer?) his back towards us, is at work. Interiors cosseted by hangings, draperies and curtains, comfortably furnished, with a gentle light of day seeping in. The figures exude order, calm, and a rhythm of contented people fully engrossed in some task unless, startled by the sudden appearance of the spectator, they turn their eyes on him. A Girl with a Pearl Earring does so in a specially dramatic way. The violent turn of her head in the spectator's direction appears the more dramatic, because our attention is necessarily focussed on her head since, uniquely in a Vermeer painting, it is set against a black void, where one would ...

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