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"Vermeer and the Delft School"
2001-06-20 until 2001-09-16
National Gallery
London, , UK United Kingdom

Painting from the Dutch town of Delft is generally most readily associated with the genius of Johannes Vermeer. However, by the time Vermeer emerged as a painter in the 1650s Delft was already an established artistic centre and until the 1670s the town sustained a significant community of artists. It is one of the aims of this exhibition to present Vermeer's work within the broader artistic context of his immediate environment.

One of the most talented painters active in Delft around 1650 was Carel Fabritius. He was born in 1622 and worked in Rembrandt's studio in Amsterdam from 1641 to 1643 when he returned to his native Midden-Beemster. He settled in Delft around 1650. Unfortunately his life was tragically cut short by the great gunpowder explosion that devastated a large part of the town in 1654. As a result, we know of only nine works by his hand. Besides his self portrait from Rotterdam (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen) that slightly predates his Delft period, the exhibition includes the four works Fabritius executed in Delft: his 'View of Delft, with a Musical Instrument Seller's Stall' of 1652 (National Gallery, London), from 1654 his famous 'Goldfinch' (Mauritshuis, The Hague), his second self portrait (National Gallery, London) and his rarely seen 'The Sentry from Schwerin' (Staatliches Museum).

'The Sentry' shows a sloppily dressed guardsman seated hunched over a gun in his lap. He is either dozing in the warm sunlight or idly tinkering with his weapon. His slovenly appearance contrasts with both the attentive dog in front of him and the relief above the gateway which depicts Saint Anthony Abbot who was seen as a model of diligence and self-discipline. Dutch towns were usually guarded night and day, so the sentry may be enjoying a rest after a long vigil. However, guardsmen were often said to be negligent of their duties and untrustworthy. Thus, maybe the picture is a bemused commentary on human shortcomings and the general low opinion of municipal soldiers. This masterpiece reveals Fabritius's great talent as a painter. In place of precise drawing and complicated perspectival constructions he uses carefully balanced light, shadow contrasts and subtle tonal values to evoke the atmosphere and to define the space and details within it.

IMAGE:
Johannes Vermeer,
'The Art of Painting', about 1666-8.
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.


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