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Innovation, Competition, and Fine Painting Technique: Marketing High-Life Style in the Dutch 17th Century

Melanie Gifford, research conservator, National Gallery of Art, and Lisha Glinsman, conservation scientist, National Gallery of Art. Recent technical research at the National Gallery of Art explores artistic exchange among the painters featured in the exhibition Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, on view from October 22, 2017, through January 21, 2018. In this lecture held on October 30, 2017, as part of the Works in Progress series, Melanie Gifford and Lisha Glinsman share discoveries from their research. Study reveals that these elegant scenes, painted for an elite Dutch art market, shared physical characteristics that defined a collective “high-life” style. At the same time, the research shows that painters each marketed their works by cultivating a distinctive personal manner and that, through subtle variations of technique and materials, they could sell at somewhat different price levels. Finally, technical study offers direct evidence for 17th century artists’ evaluations of their contemporaries’ artistic style: the recognizable features they selected and quoted in their own works for the amusement of sophisticated collectors. Gifford and Glinsman’s essay, “Collective Style and Personal Manner: Materials and Techniques of High-Life Genre Painting,” published in the exhibition catalogue explores these issues in detail.