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Revisiting Vermeer: The 20th Anniversary of the 1995 Blockbuster Exhibition at the National Gallery of Art

The exhibition endured two government shutdowns and a blizzard, but it did not deter more than 300,000 visitors to view 21 paintings from public and private collections around the world.  

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Johannes Vermeer quickly became a sensation and drew extraordinary crowds, which stretched around the West Building.

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Because of the popularity of the exhibition, free passes were required for admission at all times. Aside from advanced tickets an additional 2,500 tickets were handed out on a daily, first-come, first-serve basis. By the end of the show, people began camping out in the middle of the night to try to get one.

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Once inside the exhibition space, crowds packed the galleries to get a glimpse of the masterpieces. For the number of visitors inside the galleries, the space was remarkably quiet as viewers gazed at Vermeer's works.

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Numerous magazine articles, newspaper features, and other publications, worldwide, covered this landmark exhibition.

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International broadcast media covered the unprecedented demand for seeing these masterpieces at the Gallery.

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The subsequent works of fiction, poetry, movies, and even an opera, demonstrate the enormous impact of this exhibition.

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On the final night of the exhibition, the Gallery hosted a party for the staff to thank them for their help making the show such a success, given the enormous demands on the institution due to the blizzard, crowds, and government shutdowns. As a token of gratitude, everyone was given this button.

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