Sunday, January 15, 2017

Tracy Chevalier — Girl with a Pearl Earring Jan 13, 2017

First edition, London 1999

After early neglect Johannes Vermeer's ascendancy in the world of art has been rapid. He painted what are regarded as some of the most precious paintings of northern Europe. People admired his colours and his compositional technique which produced quiet genre paintings of women going about everyday tasks. Every painting draws the viewer in, yet does not yield its mystery no longer how long one views it.

Jan Vermeer van Delft from the figure at left in black beret of the painting ‘The Procuress’, which critics hold to be an authentic effigy of the young Vermeer

He remained poor all his working life and never left Delft, his hometown. He had but one major patron (Van Ruijven) who left his own daughter a legacy of 20 paintings by Vermeer. 

Vermeer had eleven children to feed and depended on rents brought in by his mother-in-law, Maria Thins, for pursuing his passion to paint. In the end a ruinous war destroyed the art market and a defensive measure by the Dutch to flood the lowlands by opening the dykes inundated his mother-in-law's rental houses. That brought on destitution for the Vermeer family; he descended into despondency and mania and died, leaving behind 34 works, now considered priceless.

Meera, KumKum, Zakia, Saras

Tracy Chevalier mentions she must have seen three of Vermeer's paintings at the National Gallery of Art growing up in Washington, D.C., but none evoked a response at the time. It was later when she saw a poster of the Girl with a Pearl Earring in her sister's apartment that she was stirred and got one for herself. 

Girl with a Pearl Earring - Vermeer

Slowly the idea grew to write the story behind the painting as a historical novel, rooted faithfully in the times. It was to be Ms Chevalier's second novel, the one that made her famous and got her a film contract in addition.

Sunil, Thommo, & Hemjit

The novel is not literary, but there are several quotes that stand out:
But what is the story in the painting? — Griet's father asks her
I would never stop working on a painting if I knew it was not complete.— Vermeer to Griet

During the session the women readers graciously posed in the way Vermeer had Griet pose for his famous painting, the GWAPE pose. Here is the first by Priya:

Priya in GWAPE pose with nose-ring

The readers gathered for a picture after the enjoyable session which concluded with Hemjit's spread of sandwiches and cutlets, to celebrate his birthday on Jan 16:

seated - Pamela, KumKum, Hemjit - standing Joe, Thommo, Zakia, Sunil, Saras, Meera