NORFOLK, Va. – A 1665 portrait by Johannes Vermeer of Delft will be on display at the Chrysler Museum of Art from November 1 – December 18.
The painting, ‘A Lady Writing,’ is one of only 35 known Vermeer paintings in the world. It is being lent to the Chrysler by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Vermeer paintings are exceptionally rare and most of the 35 known paintings are in major museum collections. The National Gallery of Art is home to three paintings firmly attributed to Vermeer — A Lady Writing, Woman Holding a Balance, and Girl with the Red Hat.
A Lady Writing was a 1962 memorial gift to the National Gallery of Art from the children of the great New York art collector Horace Havemeyer.
According to the Chrysler Museum, Vermeer often depicted beautiful women working at everyday activities in their homes. They are typically shown in his signature refined cast of light. Vermeer experimented with the effects of light, mathematics, and optics to enhance the realism of his laborious works. Unlike his contemporary Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) in nearby Amsterdam, Vermeer was little known or appreciated in his day. He worked mainly for a single patron who amassed at least 20 of his paintings, including the window-lit A Lady Writing.
“The beguiling expression of the young lady is the result of Vermeer’s meticulous care in composition and pose,” says Lloyd DeWitt, the Chrysler Museum’s Chief Curator and Irene Leache Curator of European Art. “Adorned in the fashionable style of the day—hair ribbons, pear-drop pearl earrings, and a fur-trimmed jacket—she meets our gaze with a slight smile while writing a letter,” he says. “The nib of her quill pen is still on the paper.”
Her charming approach indicates she is writing a love letter, a common subject of Vermeer’s letter-writing scenes, DeWitt says. Sometimes the artist would paint separate canvases of separated lovers, the pair connected only by the letters they are shown composing and the exquisite cast of light for which Vermeer is renowned. In this painting, DeWitt notes, the artist even incorporates a witty visual suggestion about the beauty and value of her writing—a string of pearls sits right below where her words of love flow from her pen onto the paper. “Vermeer’s mesmerizing canvas holds a mystery for us, and it will captivate any visitor,” DeWitt says.
A Lady Writing is the second Vermeer to visit the Chrysler in recent years. In 2010, the Museum hosted Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, a ca. 1670–1672 oil painting loaned by the Leiden Gallery in New York.
To celebrate the painting’s visit to Norfolk, Smartmouth Brewing Company has partnered with the Chrysler Museum to present the ‘Verbeer Pilsner.’
Verbeer Pilsner will be available exclusively at the Chrysler Museum of Art throughout the six weeks the Vermeer painting is on view. It will be featured at Wisteria, the Museum’s restaurant, and, as supplies last, at the cash bar for the Chrysler’s monthly Third Thursday evening events on November 17 and December 15 (admission is $5, free for Museum Members).