Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Secrets and silence

The special exhibitions at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, seem to get better and better – the latest is Vermeer's Women: Secrets and Silence.

 

The exhibition explores the domestic world of women in 17th Century Holland – which sounds a bit boring, so I'll forgive the Fitz for calling the show Vermeer's Women, when in fact only 4 of the paintings are by Vermeer! You can read more about it in this excellent review by Alastair Sooke;


  

The Fitz seemed rather quiet when I arrived this morning, the exhibition is free to go in but I decided to pay for an audio guide contraption as I was curious to hear what would be said about the paintings. There was a sign by the entrance warning that at busy times one may be asked to wait – pah! I thought . . . and then I opened the door! it was packed out! There was also a gallery talk in progress, which added to the jam of visitors and general noise.





I really wish I'd made notes of the artists and pictures I particularly liked, I bought this pack of postcards but they are very disappointing – the reproductions are very dark and those cream borders completely kill the colours, and there were so many more beautiful pictures in the exhibition.



One of my all time favourite paintings, Pieter de Hooch's The Courtyard of a House in Delft has been loaned by the National Gallery, I could sit and look at that painting for hours . . . wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to sit in a comfy chair and really have time to study all the textures and details.


New to me is Gerard ter Borch, his pictures are not included in the post card pack but I've tracked down images of two paintings that I particularly liked – Woman Sewing by a Cradle and Woman Peeling Apples. They weren't displayed together in the exhibition – but I noticed they show the same woman wearing the same sage green dress with black ribbon trim.

"Secrets" yes, the paintings depict private scenes behind curtains and peeping around half open doors; but "Silence"? the pictures have a quiet stillness, but in my mind I could hear the wooden shoes clattering on the tiled floors, the shovel scraping in the grate, pet dogs pattering along polished wooden corridors, babies crying, children giggling, a girl practicing playing the virginals, the rustle of skirts and click of lace bobbins.


Of course the star of the show is the little lace maker, Vermeer's masterpiece which has been loaned to the Fitz by the Louvre. It's small and mounted in a wide wooden frame which is inlaid with coloured veneers in a design of sinuous leaves; it's painted with transluscent layers of pigment on rough linen, you can imagine Vermeer applying the liquid paint with a fine brush – allowing the paint to drip onto the surface in sparkling dribbles of colour.



Outside in Trumpington Street, my eye was still tuned in to see views through gateways, leading to archways; weathered brickwork and cobbled courtyards with modest plants in simple terracotta pots.

  
A steeple viewed between brickwork gables, gateways, windows and tall narrow houses




Back home, I walked in through a 'de Hooch' composition of a door in a red brick wall and stone paving leading to another gateway.


A broom resting again the wall and brick paving leading to our front door.
 

A brick floor, outdoor shoes on a mat and a basket of apples – a domestic still life.

 


If you visit Cambridge to see Vermeer's Women, there is another exhibition in the Fitzwilliam which opened this week: Grey matters: Graphite – the power of the pencil; don't miss this! There are works in pencil by Toulouse Lautrec, Degas, Ingres, Lowry, Barbara Hepworth and many more – and it's simply wonderful.


And, of course, you'll be a short dawdle from Fitzbillies – the cake shop that very nearly vanished forever but has been given a new lease of life much to the relief of everyone who has ever tasted a real Fitzbillies Chelsea bun! (read the story here)

 

I'm trying to resist eating these until Cliff comes home . . .


. . . but in the interests of research, I've nibbled a little from the side of one of the Chelsea buns and can report that they are as sticky and spicy as ever – so a little bit of Cambridge food heritage lives on ;-)


Celia
x

16 comments:

  1. Oh Celia, What a fabulous post! Don't know where to start so I'll say just loved the pictures but the words were almost better. Thanks, I miss having a reason to go to Cambridge these days, although Fitzbillies is almost a reason on its own!

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  2. I really want to visit this - I'll have to try and find time. Those buns look divine!

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  3. that was just our experience at the fitz....all seemed quiet at 10.15am and then we opened the door....heaving! i love the pictures but want to return after christmas....apparently late afternoon is best. after breakfast at the new fitzbilles we went to the bridget riley at kettles yard......empty,..great post

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  4. It was like that for me too... deathly quiet outside the gallery and then opened the door to crowds at only ten past ten! I like your carefully observed spaces aound cambridge and at home - lovely post.

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  5. Celia, this post delighted me. I am a Vermeer fan, and think we are so lucky to have Vermeer paintings here in New York.

    When I traveled around Europe with my Eurailpass years ago, one of my goals was to see many more Vermeers along the way. I so agree with you that reproductions just do not show the beauty of the original works.

    Your Vermeer-inspired photographs are scenes you encountered after seeing the exhibit are fabulous.

    xo

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  6. Penny - I think you need a day trip to Cambridge!

    Su - I hope find time to treat yourself.

    Elsy - I'd had a tip that early mornings were the time to go... looks like everyone had heard that one!!! the Bridget Riley is a fabulous show too.

    Gina - thank you, I'm seeing through 17th century Dutch eyes now!

    Frances - "Young Woman Seated at a Virginal" from a private collection in New York, is here in Cambridge for the show. I remember seeing Vermeer's Milkmaid in Amsterdam - so beautiful!

    Celia
    xx

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  7. This is one hell of a fantastic post Celia!

    I'll jump straight in and say one of my main specialities for my Phd is women in seventeenth-century French society so, yes, this exhibition would fascinate me. Have you read 'Tulip Fever' by Deborah Moggach? You will see many of those paintings and hear those sounds you described in this wonderful book set, of course, in the seventeenth-century Netherlands.

    I adore northern European interior paintings. After four years of reading the literature of the time I almost feel as if I too had lived around that time. It is humbling and uplifting to hold hands with the past.

    Stephanie

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  8. Hi Stephanie - it sounds like this exhibition would be just your thing. Yes I've read 'Tulip Fever' - isn't the ending just brilliant! Have you read 'The Weaker Vessel - woman's lot in 17th England' by Antonia Fraser?
    I think I need to go back to the exhibition and revisit some of the pictures, I like the abstract elements and the interior spaces as well as the details of everyday objects and textiles.
    The fact that the exhibition is proving so popular says a lot about these multifaceted images - they speak so clearly across the centuries.

    Celia
    xx

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  9. Celia, Gina's post had already made me yearn to live closer and now yours has made it worse! I would really love to see this exhibition but probably without the crowds. Like you I want peace and stillness and the luxury of looking at a painting in a quiet space if I can. I also envy you that drawing exhibition, maybe even a bit more than the Vermeer. Barbara Hepworth drawings? Oh,my, yes please!

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  10. Hi Lesley - the Barbara Hepworth in the Graphite exhibition is a pencil study of surgeons' hands - a beautiful tender and fluid pencil line.

    Celia
    x

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  11. I am very envious of your trip to Cambridge and the exhibition, both charming and inspirational.

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  12. I find myself wondering what the train fare from North Wales to Cambridge might be! These are some of my favourite paintings. I'm quite green with envy. You lucky, lucky people who have seen the exhibition.

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  13. We were in Cambridge ourselves on Friday! Visited the Fitz (though not the exhibition - another time) Had cake and coffee at Fitzbillies (though shared a rum truffle) and admired that little courtyard display (7th picture down)!

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  14. A lovely tour-by-proxy, Celia! Thankyou.

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  15. I love the Vermeer. I wish I were closer to Cambridge and I would go!

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  16. it's wonderful to go to a gallery with somebody who understands what they're looking at.
    and those buns. ohhh grrrl.

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