Fresh Air contributor Lloyd Schwartz shares a poem he wrote about the 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer:
Why I Love Vermeer
When I moved to my new house, I thought I’d lost all my Vermeer books. I was frantic for days. How could I have lost track of them “even for the least division of an hour”? Even the most inadequate reproduction (and they’re all inadequate) has the power to move me. Lately, though, merely looking at them hasn’t seemed enough. But what more can one do? What more do they want? What are they going to ask of me now?
2. Personal reasons.
The women in the paintings—opening a window, reading a letter, pouring milk, holding a glass of wine—remind me, in their eyes, their smiles (giving, inward), their “centeredness,” remind me of certain people I love; especially (this gets more complicated), especially my mother.
Their network of contradictions (clarity and mystery; reticence and bravura; heroism and humility—not necessarily a contradiction) suggests an intelligence, an inner life, beyond the other “little” Dutch masters—and equal, it seems to me, in its way, to the nakedness and tragedy of Rembrandt. “Rembrandt ist Beethoven,” I heard an old woman say to herself in the Rijksmuseum, “Vermeer ist Mozart.” Why must one choose either over the other?
So few survive (thirty-six, fewer than the number of Shakespeare plays; and one attribution has recently been called into question). Each one—taken in, loved for itself—calls into mind each of the others.
The summer of the great retrospective in Europe (including all the Vermeers still in private collections), I had to go. Obsessed, I kept traveling to see as many more as I could. In Germany, I lied to get into a closed museum. At what wouldn’t I stop?
I grew up in New York, which has more Vermeers (eight) than any other city in the world. Any other country (there are only seven in Holland). I’ve never lived in a city without a Vermeer.
From Goodnight, Gracie (University of Chicago Press)