Johannes Vermeer

Johannes VermeerHalloween is my favorite holiday. Its iconography is the best of any holiday. Oh the things you can do with some balloons, sheets, and a body suit! And what could be better: you get to give out candy to kids! My raison d’etre is to corrupt children in the way of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Unfortunately, where I now live, I get exactly one trick-or-treat kid. And as always, I give out totally awesome candy! What a waste.

On this day in 1795, the great Romantic poet John Keats was born. His technique was brilliant, but as usual, I do have a problem with what I see as the affected obsessions that the Romantics had with nature. Still, this “Sonnet VII” is quite pretty:

O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,—
Nature’s observatory—when the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
‘Mongst boughs pavillion’d where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

Other birthday: English diarist John Evelyn (1620); poet Natalie Clifford Barney (1876); painter Marie Laurencin (1883); chess grandmaster Alexander Alekhine (1892); the “Green Grocer” Joe Carcione (1914); Dan Rather (82); actor Michael Landon (1936); actor David Ogden Stiers (71); football player Brian Piccolo (1943); marathon runner Frank Shorter (66); comedian John Candy (1950); filmmaker Peter Jackson (52); and two actors are 50: Dermot Mulroney and fucktard Rob Schneider.

The day, however, and by a mile, belongs to the great Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer who was born on this day in 1632. He was a fabulous artist but during his lifetime, he was not thought to be anything special. When he died at 43, he left his family in debt. It was not for another two and a half centuries that anyone started to notice him. Until that time, many of his paintings where credited to other painters like Gabriel Metsu, Frans van Mieris, and Pieter de Hooch. I can understand the problem with Metsu, but not really the others. It shows how thoroughly Vermeer was dismissed that people just threw his work into the catalogs of painters that really weren’t all that similar.

It’s easy to wonder why such a great artist would not have been heralded throughout the known world. He was, after all, well known locally. So it must be that the beau monde just didn’t think there was anything special about his work. But that is often the case with artists. It isn’t that bad artists are acclaimed. But who exactly is considered a great painter or singer is usually a matter of the tastes of the time more than the absolute quality of the artist.

At this point, there are only 34 (some would say 35) paintings that we are certain are Vermeer’s. There are an equal number of paintings that are disputed but may be his. That’s not many paintings, even for his short life. Assuming his career lasted 22 years, that’s at best about 3 paintings per year. But his work does show a great deal of care. Look at the wonderful use of light in Girl with a Pearl Earring (and pretty much anything else he ever did):

Girl With a Pearl Earring - Vermeer

Happy birthday Johannes Vermeer!

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