On January 26, 2013, the de Young Museum will be the first North American venue to present "Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis," a selection of paintings from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.
The de Young will also host 35 paintings from the collection, including four works by Rembrandt van Rijn. These works highlight the spectacular artistic achievements of the Dutch Golden Age and reflect the culture of artistic, economic, and technological innovation that allowed the Netherlands to prosper in the 17th century.
At the center of this exhibition is one of the world’s most famous paintings, Vermeer’s masterpiece, "Girl with a Pearl Earring."
This work, sometimes called “the Dutch Mona Lisa,” is one of only 36 known paintings by the artist and rarely travels outside the Netherlands. Though little is known about Vermeer’s life, the quiet grace and virtuoso technique evident in his paintings, and in particular his rendering of light, have placed him among the most important artists of the 17th century.
During the Dutch Golden Age, a significant shift occurred in both the technique of painting and in subject matter, particularly as secular subjects began to replace religious themes.
“The hierarchical social structure in other European countries no longer monopolized art production in the Netherlands,” says Dr. Lynn Orr, former curator in charge of European art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “As the middle class prospered, an unprecedented market for portraiture developed. Successful individuals, married couples, and civic leaders wanted likenesses to pass on to posterity.”
Like the more relaxed approach to portraiture, the paintings known as genre scenes also mirrored life as it was actually lived in the Netherlands.
The Dutch were proud of the commercial success and technological achievements that supported the Netherlands’ thriving economy during the 17th century, including the massive engineering projects that allowed the country to reclaim large areas of land from the sea. Landscapes like "View of a Lake with Sailing Ships" by Salomon van Ruysdael can be read as descriptions of the Dutch countryside, but they also often reference technological innovations. Here Ruysdael includes ships designed specifically to navigate the shallow waterways of the Netherlands, as well as the windmill and portage equipment in the distance.
Taken as a whole, this exhibition reflects the political, economic, technological and cultural accomplishments of an extraordinary society. “The Fine Arts Museums are thrilled to have this rare opportunity to share these works from the Mauritshuis,” says Orr. “The brilliant flowering of the Dutch school exemplified in these paintings was a unique achievement, and the works continue to intrigue and delight to this day.”