New Exhibition ‘Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence’ opens at the Fitzwilliam

Yesterday saw the opening of ‘Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence’ at Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, which showcases the astonishingly intimate interior scenes by Johannes Vermeer and his seventeenth-century contemporaries. Today we take a look at this exciting exhibition and the accompanying catalogue Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence published by Yale University Press.

For Vermeer fans in the UK, ‘Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence’ will be a must-see exhibition, thanks to its centrepiece, The Lacemaker (c.1669-70), one of the Musée du Louvre’s most famous works. The painting, which depicts a young woman making bobbin lace,  is rarely seen outside Paris, and is being loaned to a UK museum for the first time.

“It is a landmark for the study of Vermeer,” the Fitzwilliam’s director Timothy Potts told the Guardian, “and it is a landmark in the history of the Fitzwilliam museum. I have every hope that it will be the most visited exhibition we have ever done.”

The Lacemaker will be joined by a choice selection of other key works by Vermeer representing the pinnacle of his mature career, and over thirty other masterpieces of genre painting from the Dutch ‘Golden Age’. Featuring works from museums and private collections in the UK, Europe and the USA – many of which have never been on public display in Britain – this Cambridge showing will be the only chance to see these masterworks brought together in one location.

Celebrating the eerie calm of Vermeer’s carefully-crafted images of young women in domestic interiors, ‘Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence’ is the first exhibition of its kind to focus exclusively on the mysterious and enigmatic world created by Vermeer in some of the best loved and most characteristic works from his later career. The exhibition will also trace the impact of his unique compositions on contemporary masters of Dutch genre painting, including Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Nicolaes Maes and Jan Steen.

This exhibition is accompanied by a sumptuous catalogue Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence by Marjorie E. Wieseman (curator of Dutch paintings 1600-1800 at the National Gallery, London), Wayne E. Franits (professor and chair of the Department of Fine Arts, Syracuse University) and H. Perry Chapman (professor of art history at the University of Delaware).

Centring on the Lacemaker, this beautiful book investigates the subtle and enigmatic paintings by Vermeer that celebrate the intimacy of the Dutch household. Moments frozen in paint that reveal young women sewing, reading or playing musical instruments, captured in Vermeer’s uniquely luminous style, recreate a silent and often mysterious domestic realm, closed to the outside world, and inhabited almost exclusively by women and children.

Vermeer's Women: Secrets and Silence

Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence

In this beautiful new catalogue, three internationally recognized experts in the field explain why women engaged in mundane domestic tasks, or in pleasurable pastimes such as music making, writing letters, or adjusting their toilette, comprise some of the most popular Dutch paintings of the seventeenth century. Among the most intriguing of these compositions are those that consciously avoid any engagement with the viewer. Rather than acknowledging our presence, figures avert their gazes or turn their backs upon us; they stare moodily into space or focus intently on the activities at hand.

In viewing these paintings, we have the impression that we have stumbled upon a private world kept hidden from casual regard.

Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence runs from Wed 5 October 2011 to Sun 15 January 2012 at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence is available to order now from Yale University Press.

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