Vermeer Revealed: Take a Rare Look at a Restored Historic Dutch Painting in Tokyo

Gabriel Metsu’s 1661 oil painting ‘Self-Portrait of the Artist with his Wife Isabella de Wolff in the Tavern’ is part of the Dutch Masters of the Golden Age exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum until 3 April 2022. (Wolfgang Kreische /Dresden State Art Collections)

Johannes Vermeer in his time addressed a local clientele and that is how when he died, in debt, at the age of 43, with perhaps 45 paintings to his credit, his name fell into oblivion until the end of the 19th century.

Today, he is one of the most famous painters of all time, if not by name, at least by his seminal piece, “Girl With a Pearl Earring”, played so well by Scarlett Johansson in the eponymous 2003 film with Colin Firth as the artist himself. .

Another of Vermeer’s now famous works, “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window,” is on display in Tokyo, but hurry and plan ahead if you want to see it. The exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, the first for the restored painting outside of Germany, ends April 3.

The exhibition’s popularity and ongoing concerns about COVID-19 mean you need to book a time online. Based on the queues to see the exhibition and the three days in advance I was barely able to book a time slot, the show is very popular.

It is definitely worth seeing. Even the mildly enthusiastic art lover will get a kick out of this famous painting, which was restored by its custodian, the Dresden State Art Collections, over a year and a half from 2017. The restoration unveiled another painting in the painting, a figure of Cupid. appearing on the wall above and behind the girl reading her letter.

Johannes Vermeer "Girl at an open window reading a letter," after being restored to reveal a painting of Cupid in the paint.

“Girl at an Open Window Reading a Letter” by Johannes Vermeer after it was restored to reveal a painting of Cupid within the painting. (Wolfgang Kreische)

17th century painting by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, "Girl at an open window reading a letter," before its restoration in 2017.

17th century painting by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, ‘Young girl at an open window reading a letter’, before its restoration in 2017. (Hans-Peter Klut Elke Estel/National Art Collections Dresden)

A detail of Johannes Vermeer's restoration work

A detail of the restoration work of “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” by Johannes Vermeer. (Wolfgang Kreische/National Art Collections Dresden)

Cupid’s presence had been known for decades and scientific analysis showed that it had been concealed long after Vermeer’s death. Almost an entire gallery is dedicated to the painting and an exhibition of the painstaking but also fascinating methods of restoration as a process.

But the result itself is stunning. The painting takes pride of place, and a handful of delighted onlookers are clustered in front of it at all times. The Cupid revealed is interesting but the painting itself is much more vibrant, colorful and alive.

Vermeer’s hand captured the woman’s figure in a lifelike pose, along with rich, detailed decor ranging from her image reflected in glass to the pattern woven into the folds of fabric on a table in the foreground. The restored artwork is so much more vivid than you would expect from an oil painting over 300 years old.

Wait, there’s more. The Vermeer is the headliner of a larger exhibition of paintings by 17th-century Dutch painters, 70 works, mostly Old Masters from Holland’s Golden Age.

Caspar Netcher, "The author of the letter," 1665, part of the Dutch Masters exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum until April 3, 2022.

Caspar Netscher, ‘The Letter Writer’, 1665, on display at the Dutch Masters exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum through April 3, 2022. (Elke Estel/Dresden State Art Collections)

Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Gerard ter Borch and many others are represented in the collection on loan from Dresden. These painters turned to scenes of everyday life for their subjects. The sale of poultry was apparently a popular motif, along with artists’ self-portraits, still lifes and landscape paintings. The exhibit is stacked over three floors and numerous galleries. You can get tired of the Dutch genius, but the Vermeer is worth the trip.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Museum is located in Ueno Park, so make a day of it and stroll through the sakura gardens before grabbing plenty of oil on canvas.

On the QT

Location: Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tokyo, 8-36 Uenokoen, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0007

Directions: From Kanda Station, take the Yamanote Line to Ueno Park. From the station, walk past the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan on your left towards the zoo. At Starbucks in the park, turn right and you’re there. Signs mark the way.

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday to Thursday; open until 8 p.m. on Fridays for special exhibitions. Last admission 30 minutes before closing.

Costs: Admission ranges from 2,100 yen or $18.18 for adults to 1,500 yen or $11 for students.

Food: The museum has a restaurant but the area around Ueno Park is full of restaurants.


About Catharine C. Bean

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