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Works in Progress
Time and Temporality in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting

December 18 at 12:10, 1:10
West Building Lecture Hall

Alexandra Libby, assistant curator, department of northern baroque paintings, National Gallery of Art 

Part of the enduring appeal of Dutch paintings is their extraordinary naturalism, their ability to  “create semblance without being,” as one 17th-century art theorist wrote. Genre painters of the Dutch Golden Age have long been admired for just this ability, producing exquisite images of everyday life that, no matter how remote, feel like candid moments captured in time. The landmark exhibition Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, on view from October 22, 2017 through January 21, 2018, examines the artistic exchanges among Johannes Vermeer and his contemporaries from 1650 to 1675, when they reached the height of their technical ability and mastery of depictions of domestic life. These artists each relied on naturalism and notions of temporality in their work, but to very different ends. While many genre painters, including Frans van Mieris or Jan Steen, sought to suggest temporal development, Vermeer often reduced narrative or compositional elements in his paintings to the point of temporal indeterminacy. Alexandra Libby will explore how cultural events, scientific developments, and critical musings on time and temporality may have influenced these 17th-century genre painters to create many of their most enduring, timeless works.

Johannes Vermeer, A Lady Writing, c. 1665, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Harry Waldron Havemeyer and Horace Havemeyer, Jr., in memory of their father, Horace Havemeyer

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