Tuesday, May 03, 2011


We took in the Gabriel Metsu show at the National Gallery today.  Gabriel who?  Oh, you  know.  Metsu.  The great contemporary of Vermeer, both influenced and influenced by.  Apparently for a long time he was more famous than his now-more-famous contemporary.   Why have a Vermeer, says a collector (I quote from memory) when you can have a Metsu?

It's a worthwhile and instructive way to idle away a couple and it helps to enrich one's understanding of the golden age in Dutch Art.  But do not be misled: Metsu is not a patch on the master.  Looking at a Metsu after a Vermeer is like reading Fanny Burney after Jane Austen: entertaining in its way but a stern reminder of why the other is so much admired.

Which invites the question--how could an earlier age have made such a mistake?  It's a question that deserves an answer but on reflection, I suspect any answer may be found. Specifically: isn't it almost always the case that the producer is on one track and the consumer another--that the artist (to be specific) is tracing out lines of inquiry in which the audience isn't really interested (yet?).   Don't misunderstand me: I'm not saying the artist is a superior being on a plane apart from the riffraff.  I will say he may have thought about some issues, puzzled over some problems that the riffraff hasn't considered--but merely because the riffraff hasn't got there yet.  Back to Metsu: clearly he learned about light and color and form from Vermeer (and other great contemporaries). But he's also a superb story teller and thus perhaps more accessible than the more austere and closer-to-abstract Vermeer.  Maybe it just took time for Vermeer's particular, if somewhat arcane, virtues to shine through.  Shine through I think they do but don't stick up your nose at the Metsu show: it's a valuable  addition to any enthusiast's knowledge of the period and its style.  

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