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.
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.
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 ;-)