We left it too late for the Vermeer exhibition, and the Rijksmuseum was sold out, but as a consolation we saw Vermeer: The Greatest Exhibition yesterday, in which the curators took us on a two-hour tour, and we learned more than we would have done just by standing in front of the paintings.

From my last visit I remember that no reproduction can do justice to the brilliance and depth of colour of The Milkmaid. X-rays showed that she was first painted with things behind her but Vermeer decided to simplify and placed her against a bare wall instead. I’d never noticed – because Vermeer didn’t want you to consciously notice things like that – that her side in shadow is placed against a light wall and her side in sunlight against a dark wall, to make sharper contrasts. The red shutter in The Little Street was added later to stand out and balance the composition.

With some boldness, Vermeer made the biggest feature in The View of Delft a dark cloud, puts the foreground in shadow and creates perspective by showing sunlight only on the distant buildings.

He was the painter of light – the painter of light more than the painter of colour, because colour is the manifestation of light. Seeing his pictures in sequence in this film makes you realise that his faces are often unsaturated and out of focus so that they recede behind brighter, more sharply painted fabrics.


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