September 2016: ARTS & CULTURE: Tongue in Cheek

 Vermeer and his Contemporaries from the British Royal Collection in the Mauritshuis, The Hague Jan Steen's intimate portrayal of daily life is just one of the 22 paintings that are showcased depicting everyday life in the exhibition At Home in Holland. Vermeer and his Contemporaries from the British Royal Collection in the Mauritshuis in The Hague. The exhibition, which opens 29 September and runs until 8 January 2017, includes the masterpieces of Johannes Vermeer's, A Lady at the Virginal, Pieter de Hoogh's, Card players in a sunlit room, and Gabriel Metsu's, The Cello Player. For this exhibition of the daily life genre, a selection has been made from the British Royal Collection, a trust in custody of Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain and her successors. According to curator Quentin Buvelot of the Mauritshuis, "never before has such a large group of Dutch genre paintings from the British Royal Collection been on view in the Netherlands". The British Royal Collection is one of the largest and most important collections of art in the world and the last great European collections. The British Royal family started collecting art five hundred years ago with King Henry VII. In the course of the history, the collection has experienced several twists and turns. For example, after King Charles I (1600-1649) was dethroned and beheaded in 1649, Oliver Cromwell sold the royal collection. However, his successor Charles II started collecting again, which was continued by William III, (the Dutch stadholder) and his wife Queen Mary in 1688, and is carried on today by the current British monarch. The painting collection currently has eight thousand works, and had extensive additions made especially during the reign of George III (1738-1820), who is more often remembered for losing the British colonies in the American War of Independence, and for suffering for a mental illness later in life. The pièce de résistance is Vermeer's Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman (1660-1662). The work includes the artist's characteristic decor of a room filled with soft- light falling from the windows and a pristine black and white-marbled floor. At the far end of the room we see the back of a young woman and man standing at a virginal. Above them hangs a slightly tilted mirror that reveals the girl's face and the foot of Vermeer's easel. Buvelot ponders, "Are the two characters a young woman and her music teacher, a daughter and her father, or a girl and her lover? Vermeer is vague which is why the work is intriguing and can be interpreted in different ways".This is one of the 36 known works of Vermeer, and was added to the British Royal Collection in 1762 by George III, after it was thought to be a work by Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635-1681). Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman was purchased along with a group of paintings and rediscovered as a Vermeer only in 1866 after Théophile Thoré-Bürger, the French art critic and journalist, whose interest in Vermeer sparked after he saw the artist's View of Delft when he visited the Mauritshuis in 1842. Several works in the exhibition were acquired by George III's son and successor George IV (1762-1830) who besides being known for his fondness for women and leading an extravagant lifestyle, also had a well-developed taste for Flemish and Dutch art. In 1811, he purchased Nicolaes Maes' The Listening Housewife (1655), an everyday depiction of a lady of the house quietly walking down the stairs to find that the maid's broom has been cast aside and the personnel abandoned their housework. In the lower left-hand corner Maes (1634-1693) shows us an elderly man holding a lantern that illuminates a couple intimately kissing and hints that they might engage in sex. The lady of the house looks us straight in the eye and playful smiles. She encourages us to enjoy the moral dilemma. Buvelot laughs, "The viewer thinks he knows what is about to happen, but is not completely sure. That's what makes the painting so exciting!" by Benjamin Roberts At Home in Holland. Vermeer and his Contemporaries from the British Royal Collection. The exhibition was previously held at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London (November 2015- February 2016) and The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh (March 2016- July 2016).MauritshuisPlein 29The Haguewww.mauritshuis.nl29 September 2016 - 8 January 2017

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