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Sunday, 3 June 2012



A Young Girl Reading: Jean-Honoré Fragonard: c. 1770, oil on canvas, 81 x 65 cm (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window: Johannes Vermeer, 1657, oil on canvas, 83 x 64.5 cm (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden)

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window (detail): Johannes Vermeer, 1657, oil on canvas, 83 x 64.5 cm (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden)

Woman in Blue Reading a Letter: Johannes Vermeer, 1663-64,oil on canvas, 46.6 x 39.1 cm (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (detail): Johannes Vermeer, 1663-64,oil on canvas, 46.6 x 39.1 cm (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Woman Reading a Letter: Pieter de Hooch, 1664. oil on canvas, 55 x 55 cm (Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest)

Young Woman in Orison Reading a Book of Hours: Ambrosius Benson, 1520s, oil on panel, 75 x 55 cm (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Woman Reading a Letter (detail): Gerard Terborch, 1660-62, oil on canvas, 79 x 68 cm (Royal Collection, London)

Old Woman Reading a Bible: Gerrit Dou, c. 1630, oil on wood, 71 x 56 cm (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Woman Reading: Pieter Janssens Elinga (1623-1682), n.d., oil on canvas, 75.5 x 63.5 cm (Alte Pinkothek, Munich)

Woman Reading a Letter: Gabriel Metsu, 1662-65, oil on panel, 53 x 40 cm (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin)

  Lesende / Reader, Gerhard Richter, 1994, oil on linen, 102 x 72 cm; image by Randall Hobbett, 28 October 2008 (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

“Painter and subject both require to be free of … irksome material attachment.  And separate at last both find their natural condition, their fullest life.  The feminine subject is intact, entire.  The painter has no part in her immemorial existence.  She remains outside him, essentially and perfectly other than he.  And being so she is to him the most complete enrichment.  The necessary halves of a world have come together: it is a marriage of light.”

 -- Lawrence Gowing, Vermeer, London, Giles de la Mare, 1952


Wooden Boy said...

Although it's maybe not the most accomplished painting, I love the Pieter Jannsens Elinga best, with the clogs on the bare floor and a poverty of light falling at her stockinged feet. She reads with what she can get and so the reading matters more.

TC said...

And while we're at it -- back to books.

TC said...

Yes, WB, her true solitude (head turned away from us, private unto herself) seems, hidden away toward the bottom of this series, the secret necessary entry key to whatever those worlds are into which one escapes when one reads.

We here were so relieved she'd had a chance to remove those stiff pink wooden clogs though of course from Elinga's directorial POV having a spot of that pink there in the near foreground can't have hurt the overall attack plan.

But I don't know. Perhaps the rather scattered overall attack plans of that general period must remain, finally, a mystery to us here now -- our being so in love with a less specifically volitional form of order & c.

"What an honest triumph in my uncle Toby's looks as he marched up to the ramparts! What intense pleasure swimming in his eye as he stood over the corporal, reading the paragraph ten times over to him, as he was at work, lest, peradventure, he should make the breach an inch too wide,--- or leave it an inch too narrow----"

Capt. Shandy & Cpl. Trim Strategize the Siege of Namur

(I believe I may have read somewhere in that hinterland before the accident that "studies show" men to be better than women when it comes to reading maps & charts, women far superior when it comes to reading anything with human emotional content, as novels, stories, poems & c.)

ACravan said...

Really great for Sunday morning viewing and impossible to choose a favorite, but I'll just say how much I love the bookending Fragonard and Richter works. Wonderful and beautiful. Curtis

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Re the paintings and your last paragraph in the comment stream: a coincidence of course but I have to say I just finished rereading Woolf's A Room of One's Own. I suppose any further comment on my part would be superfluous.

TC said...

Curtis, those are magnificent, aren't they?

The Fragonard, such freedom, as though genius were not even a costly thing, however we may hold it dear.

By the by, speaking of dear, have you by any chance checked out the recent Richter auction prices ... OMG.

The marvelous Gowings line about "a marriage of light" did give pause for thought.

The figure in the wonderfully radiant photorealist Richter is of course his wife, Sabine.

It must be said, though, the detail of the green barrette, there, is shown in this context to be accomplished with little-to-none of the virtuosity of execution displayed in the close-work in the majority of the works above.

Vassilis, naturally, thinking about that book, it takes one only about two seconds to remember that all these paintings were done by...

"Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size."

Or again.

"Have you any notion how many books are written about women in the course of one year? Have you any notion how many are written by men? Are you aware that you are, perhaps, the most discussed animal in the universe?"

-- A Room of One's Own (1929)

Lally said...

This may sound facile and obvious but once again, great post Tom, great choices, and most of all great quote to end with and summarize it all. A "marriage of light" indeed.

TC said...

Thanks very much, Michael. Is that not a luminous series of sentences?



Beautiful -- a short course in the history of painting, from the Benson (1520s) to the Vermeers (1660s) to Fragonard (1770) to the Richter (1994), how the way the painter works the paint has changed! And how these girls and women continue to read (as the days and years go by), in the silent world of the painting -- what words in these books? what are they thinking?


light coming into sky above black plane
of ridge, song sparrow calling in field
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

motion of plane takes place,
first of co-ordinates

by this means for the first
time, repeated, given

cloudless blue sky to the left of point,
sunlit green of pine on tip of sandspit

Anonymous said...

love the environment and gesture of the readers...!!

Conrad DiDiodato said...

It just occurred to me reading is the best Occupy...

Susan Kay Anderson said...

(Interior) space is the place to map out.

TC said...

Susan, you've put into the dim bulb the thought of maps in interiors...

Ira said...

I'm a little late on this, Tom, but a lovely post. How about the complicated Balthus' "The Living Room," pictured here.

best wishes,
Ira Sadoff

TC said...

That's beautiful, Ira. The Lascaraky Sisters!

Leave it to Balthus to have a thoroughly engrossed female reader positioned... would one say horizontally?