Museum rivalry ‘could make Dutch Vermeer show last of its kind’

Rijksmuseum aims to bring together all the works by Girl with a Pearl Earring painter that are fit to travel

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum has announced a “first and last” exhibition of all the paintings by Johannes Vermeer that are fit to travel, as its director claimed growing museum rivalry makes such international cooperation unlikely in the future.

Vermeer, whose most famous work is Girl with a Pearl Earring, dating from around 1665, is thought to have painted 35 masterpieces, of which 23 were shown together 26 years ago at the Mauritshuis in The Hague.

Taco Dibbits, the Rijksmuseum director, said his institution would surpass that number but he did not expect such a collection to ever be possible again owing to the age of the works and the intense competition among galleries to draw in visitors.

“What I am seeing, if you look since the 1996 exhibition, it is more and more difficult to get the loans because Vermeer is such an iconic painter,” he said. “For museums to part with Vermeer’s work is more and more difficult. Because it is the first [for the Rijksmuseum], it has created a kind of feeling that we have to do it now as it gives an opportunity to compare and study the works together.

“The pressure on museums to make exhibitions is larger. There are more and more museums in the world and works from the 17th century are fragile. There is more pressure on the works.”

A crop of The Little Street, circa 1658
Detail from The Little Street, circa 1658. Photograph: c/o Rijksmuseum

Vermeer, who lived and worked in Delft in the west of the Netherlands, is widely regarded to stand with Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Picasso as one of the finest artists in history, but relatively little is known about him or the subjects of his paintings. He was barely known as an artist when he died at 43 in 1675.

The latest technology in the study of art has recently revealed the strenuous preparation and effort he made with his paintings, and the expensive pigments that were used, explaining his relatively small oeuvre of works.

The Milkmaid
The Milkmaid, one of the Rijksmuseum’s Vermeers. Photograph: c/o Rijksmuseum

From 10 February 2023 to 4 June 2023 the Rijksmuseum will exhibit masterpieces such as Girl with a Pearl Earring, loaned from the Mauritshuis; The Geographer, from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt; Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid, from the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin; and Woman Holding a Balance, from the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

The newly restored Girl Reading a Letter at the Open Window, from the Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden, will be seen for the first time in the Netherlands. Dibbits said negotiations were ongoing with museums to try to get the maximum number of works.

“I think that will be impossible to have them all, but we are getting lots, more than I ever dreamed to have,” he said. “Some works are very fragile.”

Dibbits said gathering the paintings together would offer an opportunity to “an entirely new generation of researchers and public who have never been able to study Vermeer in such a way”.

He said: “It is incredibly hard for researchers when you move between museums to look at paintings, your brain has done a lot of tricks, it is very difficult to actually compare.”

The Rijksmuseum has four masterpieces by Vermeer, including The Milkmaid and The Little Street.

Martine Gosselink, the director of the Mauritshuis, said: “The Girl with the Pearl Earring is the most famous Dutch girl in the world. Yes, we will miss her terribly, but a Vermeer exhibition without the Girl is simply not a Vermeer exhibition.”


Daniel Boffey in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Pearl of a museum: Vermeer shines among Dutch icons in new Mauritshuis

A dramatic yet tasteful refurbishment allows The Hague's fine collection of golden age Dutch art to seduce and intrigue, writes Jonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones in The Hague

20, Jun, 2014 @3:23 PM

Article image
Museums spar over authenticity of painting ahead of major Vermeer show
Rijksmuseum to display Girl With a Flute at exhibition despite National Gallery of Art, Washington, saying it is an imitation

Daniel Boffey

01, Nov, 2022 @7:46 PM

Article image
Unseen Van Gogh sketches that rework scorned masterpiece to go on display
Preparatory work for ‘redoing’ of The Potato Eaters – savaged in his lifetime – to feature in exhibition

Daniel Boffey in Amsterdam

07, Oct, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Van Gogh's gushing letter to art critic goes on show in Amsterdam
In letter artist describes review, one of the first of his paintings, as ‘a work of art in itself’

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

09, May, 2019 @4:47 PM

Article image
Just Stop Oil activist tries to glue own head to Girl with a Pearl Earring
Protester at The Hague’s Mauritshuis says Vermeer painting protected and fine unlike ‘future of our children’

Jon Henley Europe correspondent

27, Oct, 2022 @2:40 PM

Article image
Beyoncé and Jay-Z help Louvre museum break visitor record in 2018
More than 10m visited Paris museum, with interest boosted by music video filmed there

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

03, Jan, 2019 @10:37 AM

Article image
Netherlands museum exhibition to tell story of Dutch slave trade
‘Black Lives Matter shows urgency that subject is addressed,’ says Rijksmuseum director

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

10, Dec, 2020 @4:53 PM

Article image
Dutch researchers coax secrets from Girl with a Pearl Earring
Although offering insights into the artist’s technique, gallery has yet to solve Vermeer’s biggest mystery

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

28, Apr, 2020 @1:33 PM

Article image
Hieronymus Bosch review – a heavenly host of delights on the road to hell
An astonishing homecoming for this madly inventive artist sets the grotesque against a deep but compassionate melancholy that burns into your soul

Jonathan Jones

11, Feb, 2016 @9:00 AM

Article image
New stop on Delft tourist trail after Vermeer's Little Street identified
Dutch art historian tells how he solved centuries-old mystery – and local people report a sightseeing invasion

Gordon Darroch in Delft

26, Nov, 2015 @5:00 AM