Woman with Parrott by Vermeer Fine Art

Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting

Finding Inspiration, Rivalry and Artistic Evolution

At the Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Paintings exhibit at the National Gallery of Art put together a great exhibit that tried to explore the complex questions of how artists find inspiration, how they react towards rivalry, and how artistic evolution results from artists dealing with inspiration and rivalry. On view paintings from the following artists: Gerrit Dou, Caspar Netscher, Gerard ter Borch, Esaias van de Velde, Johannes Vermeer, Gabriel Metsu, Jan Steen, and Frans van Mieris paintings. The National Gallery of Art curators Adriaan E. Waiboer, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., and Blaise Ducos begins the exhibit journey with explaining that The Netherlands in 1650 had an extensive canal system which allowed people to move about the country with speed and ease. They also explained that the middle class was becoming more established and wealthy. They even said that the artist communities were very small, and that many of the artists on view saw each other's work.

Missing Critical Element - Art Markets

What the exhibit glosses over are the famous art markets, and how these artists were making a living with their art through these markets. For example, the influence of the art markets in Hague and other towns and cities throughout the Netherland region is only suggested as a location where the artists saw other artists art work. They didn't go into detail about who was running these markets, who decided what to sale the public, and what was the price they fixed to the paintings. They also didn't go into detail about how the Middle Class that suddenly has the money to purchase luxury items went about selecting their own art purchases or developing their own art preferences. Did they choose the art themselves or did someone else make the selection?

Middle-Class Different Values

It is certain that the middle-class appreciated and desired art for their own personal use, but they do not value the style or themes that the upper-class valued. The best example is the Young Women Making Lace theme. Hand weaving lace was extremely important activity for a middle-class woman. It shows that she is still industrious even though she has the finer things to work with. Hanging this on your wall would remind the family, friends, and business partners that your wife was still working hard for the family with the best materials.

We Can Afford The Best Education

The next theme that the exhibit shows is the proverbial love letter writing. As an up and coming middle-class that was showing art on the walls in their receiving room to their close friends, relatives, and business partners naturally the subject of knowledge of reading and writing was a big topic. Those that could afford tutors were extremely proud of this achievement. After all the art of penmanship was a luxury that was taught beyond basic writing skill. And, to even suggest that the women and men of your family have time to develop relationships and write long letters gives the message that your family is prosperous and did not need to spend time on house hold chores.

I Have a Lot of Money

The National Gallery of Art suggests that the artists all saw each other's paintings and decided it was a good idea to copy the painting. Honestly, I think there is more to this scenario such as the art dealer was standing next to the artist when they were viewing the piece, and saying something along the lines, I have a lot of people that love this painting of a woman with a parrot. I just sold this painting for x amount of dollars. If I was a Dutch artist, and I saw the painting that my friend sold, I would start producing the same type of art.

Did We Get an Answer?

So, the question of inspiration, rivalry and artistic evolution is only half answered by The National Gallery of Art. They forgot that the art dealer is always a key figure that bridges the gap between the audience and the artist. The art dealer must take into consideration the preferences of the buyers or they themselves go out of business. It is quite simple, if you don't sale your art at the market you will not be seen at the market. This sense of economics was and continues to be a large force that moves the artist to evolve and change their techniques, themes, and styles.
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