Two paintings made world famous after inspiring bestselling novels, including the “Dutch Mona Lisa,” are to return to their newly refurbished home in The Netherlands after touring for two years.
Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Goldfinch, by a pupil of Rembrandt, are among the works heading back ahead of the re-opening of the Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery, whose collection has a knack of inspiring novelists.
After a multimillion euro overhaul, the gallery, housed in a 17th century building, is hoping it can now raise its own profile around the world.
Emilie Gordenker, director of the gallery, said the paintings were sent on tour to countries including the US and Japan “to raise funding for the building project, but equally we wanted to get our name out there. People know our paintings but they don’t know the museum as much as we’d like".
The Mauritshuis, which is in the heart of The Hague, will reopen at the end of June after closing in April 2012. The collection also includes Rembrandt masterpieces and work by Rubens and Jan Steen.
The popularity of the Vermeer painting in particular means the museum has put in new crowd-control measures, and is considering installing a barrier “because it’s so special”.
“We’re very keen for the Girl to go back to her old room. She’s getting a little homesick now,” the gallery director said. “Now that the Girl is better known to the world, we’d like people to come and see her at home.”
The Goldfinch, by Carel Fabritius in 1654, will also be given a more prominent spot in the museum after its newfound celebrity.
The popularity of both paintings has soared since inspiring novels. Dr Gordenker said: “The Mauritshuis, for some reason, seems to attract novelists,”
“It has something to do with the high quality of the work but also the intimacy of the Mauritshuis itself,” she said. “They’re often quite small and domestic paintings in scale and the result is a very personal reaction. That’s something novelists, obviously, can put into words.”
Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring was published in 1999. It went on to become a New York Times bestseller, shifting well over three million copies, and was adapted into a film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth.
Dr Gordenker said: “This painting has captured the imagination throughout the world. We’re starting to think of it as the Dutch Mona Lisa. Its success is partly due to the novel by Tracy Chevalier that was made into a film.” Other Vermeer masterpieces in the collection include View of Delft and Diana and her Nymphs.
The Goldfinch was much less well known until Donna Tartt published her third novel, also called The Goldfinch, last year. The painting was recently displayed at the city’s Frick Collection and prompted a record number of visitors.
Dr Gordenker said: “At the beginning they were coming for The Girl and staying for the rest, then they started coming for both.”
The Mauritshuis was built for Count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen between 1636 and 1644, when he was governor of the Dutch colony in Brazil. It became a museum in 1822 with the collection given to the state by King William I.
There is a “relatively small” collection of around 800 paintings, Dr Gordenker said, “but it is of extraordinary quality. We count ourselves in the top four collections of paintings of the Dutch Golden Age”. The others are in Amsterdam, London and Berlin.
The so-called “jewel box” has been renovated with a new wing. It will use the art deco building across the road as an exhibition space and education centre, which will be connected to the 17th century building by a concourse below ground level.
The gallery director expects that there will be a 25 per cent rise in visitors. “We’re a very small building so we’re not aiming for huge numbers of visitors. We expect to level out at about 300,000 a year,” she said.