Museums discuss the authenticity of painting before the great Vermeer exhibition

From the identity of the young woman in Johannes Vermeer’s most famous painting, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, to the techniques he uses, much of the Dutch master remains a mystery.

The lack of certainty about the life and works of the Sphinx of Delft, as it was known, has now instilled some controversy – and perhaps also some interinstitutional tension, albeit gently denied – in view of what is being pointed out as the largest exhibition of his paintings, at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, next February.

Girl with a Flute – a work whose attribution to Vermeer has long been in dispute and which is now the cause of some kind of transatlantic stalemate – is one of four canvases loaned by the National Gallery of Art in Washington for a long-awaited spectacle. .

The Washington gallery last month announced that microscopic pigment analysis and advanced imaging technology had convinced it that the painting, one of only two attributed to Vermeer on wood paneling, was not authentic.

Related: Museum rivalry “could make Dutch Vermeer’s show the last of its kind”

He said that telltale marks had been found in the pigment layering on the painting which indicated that it was a good, but ultimately failed, imitation of a 17th-century Dutch artist’s work.

The Rijksmuseum, however, leaning on his probably even more extensive research on Vermeer, has none. Not only does the Dutch National Museum believe the painting to be an original, one of 35 or 36 surviving works, but it intends to label it as such when its exhibition opens on 10 February.

“They did great research at the National Gallery in Washington on their four Vermeers and, during the pandemic and in research before the exhibition, we were able to research 10 Vermeers,” said Taco Dibbits, director of the Rijksmuseum. “We have discussed the technical results with Washington and our vision of Vermeer based on these technical results is more inclusive than Washington’s.”

Dibbits was diplomatic on the difference of opinion. The National Gallery’s findings will be featured in the exhibition catalog, he said.

“Attribution is not a difficult science, but we believe Vermeer is such an innovative artist who has taken so many directions in his art that we feel that for us the painting is still by Vermeer,” Dibbits said. “We keep it inside the work. We stand out by sight. It’s something we’ve been discussing for a long time. We’re all happy about it. “It didn’t seem to be a source of irritation.” No. At all.”

Vermeer, who died at 43, left no diaries or letters and little is known about many of the subjects of his paintings. The Rijksmuseum will exhibit 28 at its exhibition thanks to loans from other European galleries and galleries in the United States and Japan.

On Tuesday it was announced that New York’s Frick Collection would provide three of his masterpieces: The Girl Interrupted at Her Music; Officer and laughing girl; and mistress and waitress. The exhibition at the Rijksmuseum will be the first time that all three paintings have been shown together outside New York since they were acquired more than a century ago.

• Vermeer will take place every day at the Rijksmuseum from 10 February to 4 June 2023

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