Monday, January 30, 2012

Vermeer: An Artist that Influences

Norman Rockwell's ad for Sunmaid Raisins mid 1920's

I recently visited the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, and one of the delightful surprises I found was this 1920's ad Rockwell did for Sunmaid Raisins. As soon as I walked into the gallery I caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye and it looked for all the world like a Vermeer!

Vermeer is one of those artists that captivate and influence across the centuries. Through the skillful use of light, composition and color his work fascinates. All his paintings had moral stories to tell that would have been easily understood by his contemporaries and sometimes political commentary that would not have gone unnoticed as well.

Rockwell borrows the light effect coming through the window from Vermeer's Milkmaid. I wonder if he got the idea to use the Milkmaid for inspiration because the product he was advertising was Sunmaid! LOL

Other similarities are the bowl on the table in the ad, and the bowl the milkmaid pours her milk into, the basket on the wall in the Vermeer correspondes to the light (?) in the upper left of the ad, and the bit of shelf is reminiscent of the windowledge in the Vermeer.

Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid, 1658

Though not a exact correspondence of posture the woman in blue from the ad immediately reminded me of  Vermeer's Lacemaker  with her down-turned gaze and busy hands.

Johannes Vermeer, The Lacemaker, 1669

The seated woman in the ad brought to mind Vermeer's Astronomer leaning over the table top. Also notice that Rockwell has artwork on the wall in the ad and a paper poster tacked to the wall as The Astronomer has tacked on his cabinet.

Johannes Vermeer, The Astronomer, 1668
The table top itself, and the bundle of blue cloth to the left in the ad, are borrowed from Woman Holding a Balance,  as well as the Delft blue color or her garment, though brighter and more modern in the ad..

Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, 1664
For just a small taste of the moralistic and religious messages in Vermeer's work notice that the painting on the wall behind the Woman Holding a Balance is a depiction of The Last Judgement. Serene in expression, robed in celestial blue, and pure white, bathed in light that shines in through a golden curtain, the woman holds the scales of judgement in her hands. Earthly riches are scattered on the table, the small frame on the wall opposite her holds a mirror, meant to symbolize the need for inner reflection on the state of one's soul in the face of the brevity of life, the temptation of earthly riches and the certainty of death and judgement.

Vermeer continues to influence with books and movies like The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Chasing Vermeer , The Music Lesson, and collections of poems with titles like, Vermeer's Light, Poems 1996-2006 , Like a Vermeer and Other Poems
I think it's safe to say that Vermeer's paintings continue to fascinate and inspire.They also have become so well known and iconic that the general public recognizes them and feels a resonance with them because of their incredible light and beauty.

I have my own Vermeer influences too. In art college we had to choose a masterwork and translate it into a paper mosaic using color aid paper. 

I chose Vermeer's Young Woman with a Water Jug, above.  This was essentially an exercise in color and value matching (as well as a test of patience as we were using rubber cement and the very expensive and very easily marred color aid paper!)  I wish I had a photo to show you but the photo is long gone and the piece sold at my senior show to someone who was totally captived by it.

My second piece influenced by Vermeer is more lighthearted and was painted just a few years after the movie,The Girl with the Pearl Earring, thrust Vermeer back into the public consciousness.  This one is sold too, by the way...

The Cow with the Pearl Earring....

Silly and whimsical, yes (this was the era of the Painting a Day craze causing me to pump out all kinds of creative things day after day, ) but the truth is, the  moment I saw the cow with the shiny tag in her ear it immediately reminded me of the title of the Vermeer painting. I think that's a testament to Vermeer's far reaching influence!

Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665-66

So, from Sunmaid Raisin ads, to novels, poetry, movies and whimsical paintings Vermeer exerts influence on artists and viewers alike. I think it is a splendid thing that beautiful art becomes a part of our everyday culture and life. I think that it is important to have artworks of amazing beauty and skill embedded into our cultural awareness so that we are all reminded of the goodness of creating works of art and of acknowledging and applauding a standard of beauty.


Roxanne Steed said...

hehe, It is true- we all stand on the shoulders of those that have gone before us! Great article!

Terri West said...

Excellent and intriguing post!