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Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister to restore Johannes Vermeer's 'Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window'
Johannes Vermeer, Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, 1657-1659, Oil on canvas, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, © SKD.

DRESDEN.- Johannes Vermeer’s painting Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, circa 1657–59, is among the central works held at the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden. After the successful restoration of Vermeer’s early work The Procuress (1656) in 2002–2004 – the second painting in Dresden by the artist – the idea arose of restoring Girl Reading a Letter as well. To better understand the artistic process behind Girl Reading a Letter and its state of preservation, numerous examinations were performed over the past years. Considering its age, the painting is stable in terms of its conservation condition. Its surface, however, is characterized by severely darkened layers of varnish and old retouching, and this above all gave rise to the decision to restore the painting.

The extraordinary conservation project, which got underway in the spring of 2017, is made possible through the generous support of the Hata Foundation in Tokyo. The restoration is taking place in the paintings conservation department of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and is being carried out by the conservator Dr. Christoph Schölzel. The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen’s department for research and scientific cooperation is supporting the project and is promoting interdisciplinary cooperation. The conservation project is able to build on the extensive insights about the work of Johannes Vermeer that have been gained in the course of conservation work on Vermeer’s paintings in other large collections over the past decade.

Marking the beginning of the project was an international symposium with specialists from Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Vienna and Dresden, who themselves have examined and restored works by the artist in the past years. They were invited by the Dresden Gemäldegalerie and will continue to accompany the conservation project, providing their professional input. Furthermore, the archaeometry laboratory at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Dresden, directed by Prof. Christoph Herm, will be participating in the project as a partner.

Prof. Marlies Giebe, Director of Paintings Conservation: “With the restoration of Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, we hope to win back Vermeer’s well-known vivid colouration in a painting that was created at an important turning point in Vermeer’s work. At the same time, we expect to gain answers in regard to various hypotheses about the pictorial invention in the work and its history. We will be presenting our first results as well as further steps to an interested public in the course of the project.”

Dr. Stephan Koja, Director of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister and the Skulpturensammlung: “Not even forty paintings by Johannes Vermeer are known to experts in the field. The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister is in the happy situation of holding not one but two masterworks by the Delft painter. The Procuress of 1656 was already completely restored in 2002–2004, and now we are delighted that, through the generous support of the Hata Foundation, the restoration of Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window can be carried out as well, and that, following the removal of the varnish, the painting will shine with new splendour.”

Dr. Christoph Schölzel, Conservator in the Paintings Conservation Department: “Numerous preliminary examinations with the microscope, with x-ray imaging, infrared reflectography and including an analysis of the canvas structure and older paint samples led to a long decision-making process with the result that the painting will be restored before exhibitions are installed in the completely overhauled Gemäldegalerie. The work that has been carried out so far to remove the yellowed varnish that originates in the nineteenth century has already brought back to life the wonderful colour of the painting and made Vermeer’s unmistakable brushstroke visible once again. Exciting questions about the painting’s creation will surely be answered in the course of the conservation work.”

The restored Vermeer painting Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window will be presented to visitors to Dresden’s Gemäldegalerie in 2019, at the occasion of the reopening of the Sempergalerie after many years of partial closure due to construction. It can already be announced as a highlight of the new permanent exhibition. The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister provides regular updates about the progress of the conservation work on its website.

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