Vermeer in Philadelphia

I spent a recent Saturday afternoon enjoying Philadelphia with my son. We walked from Center City along the Schuylkill River to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Museum manages to be more than “just” a museum. It has character. It floats majestically over the City, a modern Parthenon. The iconic Museum steps are an amazing public space. Of course, some people can’t resist running up them, a la Rocky. But many more stroll, sit, visit, consult maps, converge and disperse. 

We hadn’t any plan. It was too close to closing time to venture into the big featured exhibit, “Treasures from Korea”. We visited a few favorite galleries, then I realized that a Vermeer was on display. Having read I was Vermeer: the Forger Who Swindled the Nazis (by Frank Wynne) a few years ago, I was thrilled. We found our way to the painting, hanging on a wall like any other canvas. (I expected it to be more “featured”.) It’s a tiny work entitled “Young Woman Seated at a Virginal”. The virginal is a keyboard instrument. The woman is playing, but she looks straight at the artist, very composed. The light and color are lovely. It is said to be the only Vermeer privately held. The owner is identified as the Leiden Collection.

There aren’t many Vermeer paintings in existence, and their number is uncertain, because of attribution issues and forgery. Wynne’s book recounted the exploits of Han van Meegeren, an artist and art dealer who took up forgery because he felt his work was not appreciated. He was an accomplished artist and premiere forger. I recommend Wynne’s book highly. 

I guess this means I’m a fan of the Dutch Golden Age. The Philadelphia Museum owns 300 paintings in that category – enough to keep me entertained for many for visits!


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