Serenity of Vermeer crowded out: Letter

Martina Droth
Tuesday 07 May 1996 23:02

Sir: Remarkable for a show containing only 21 paintings, the Vermeer exhibition at The Hague has attracted tremendous publicity and vast audiences. While the show's high profile may serve to justify the expense involved and the difficulties posed by such an undertaking, the great publicity surrounding it is, at the same time, its undoing.

Andrew Marr wrote (23 March) that the reason such a huge number of visitors are making the "pilgrimage" to the Hague is because "there they will experience something extraordinary, something they will never forget" - the "mystical experience" of Vermeer's art.

How can the serenity and stillness of a painting by Vermeer be appreciated when chaos and hysteria fill the space around it? The crowds around each of Vermeer's small paintings are four rows deep and there is barely room to move, let alone concentrate on the work. Timed entrance tickets and overcrowded spaces, not to mention excessive merchandise, are characteristic of today's exhibitions, of which the Vermeer, or the recent Cezanne show at the Tate, are typical. This is no way to see art.

It is also foolish to believe that it is genuine love and appreciation of Vermeer's genius, or Cezanne's revolutionary style, which draws the visitor. Compare the Cezanne exhibition with the Courtauld Institute; here, in the heart of London, are five splendid examples of Cezanne's paintings (three of which were, ironically, on loan to the Tate for the exhibition) yet the Courtauld receives fewer visitors in a year than the Tate did for this exhibition alone.

Exhibitions are sold to the public as packages; it seems that the audience's enthusiasm is driven more by the event than by a love of paintings.

Martina Droth

London E5

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