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Detroit Institute of Arts offers rare opportunity to see Johannes Vermeer painting
Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, ca. 1664. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Widener Collection.
DETROIT, MICH.- Rembrandt made about 400 paintings, Van Gogh more than 1,200. Their countryman Johannes Vermeer (1632–75) is known for only around 35. Detroit Institute of Arts visitors have the rare opportunity to see one of only 11 Vermeer paintings in U.S. museums. Woman Holding a Balance, on loan from the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, D.C., will be on view until September 2.

“This is an extraordinary loan, and we are especially grateful to our colleagues at the NGA for accommodating our request,” said Graham W. J. Beal, DIA director. “Because the DIA is a player on the international art stage, we can bring a Vermeer and exhibitions like Five Spanish Masterpieces and Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus to Detroit for our local communities to enjoy.”

Vermeer was a successful artist in his lifetime, but after his death in 1675, his work was almost forgotten. He was “rediscovered” in the mid-19th century and is now known as one of the master painters of the Dutch Golden Age.

Most of Vermeer’s paintings portray simple Dutch interiors with one or two figures, usually women, engaged in everyday activities. He excelled at transforming seemingly ordinary subjects and objects into expressions of perfect balance and harmony through his rendering of the effects of light on objects, as well as the materials worn by his subjects. His paintings are intimate portraits of everyday life that incorporate symbolic moral messages.

At first glance, Woman Holding a Balance is a straightforward scene of a woman working in a room, but the symbolism woven into the painting communicates deeply held values in Dutch 17th-century society: live a life of moderation and keep earthly pleasures in perspective.

The DIA is displaying Woman Holding a Balance in the Dutch galleries in the middle of two similar scenes by Dutch artists working at the same time as Vermeer: Mother Nursing Her Child, by Pieter de Hooch, and A Lady at Her Toilette, by Gerard ter Borch. Displaying these three paintings together will not only allow visitors to see the values these artists shared, but also appreciate the special qualities of Vermeer’s style that has made him a Modernist icon.

Vermeer at the DIA
The DIA’s collection ranks among the world’s best, as can be seen by the number of museum masterpieces requested for major international loan exhibitions. And as a player on the international art stage, the DIA, in turn, has access to works often not seen outside of Europe or the East Coast.

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