‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ Banned from Travel

Vermeer's masterpiece under permanent house arrest at the Mauritshuis.

Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Photo by Ivo Hoekstra, courtesy of the Mauritshuis, The Hague.

If you didn’t get around to checking out the “Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals” exhibition at the Frick in New York this year, and you still want to see Johannes Vermeer’s beloved Girl with a Pearl Earring (circa 1665), you’re going to have to make a trip to the Netherlands, reports the Guardian.

While The Hague’s Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery was closed for a two year refurbishment project, its prized collection of Dutch Golden Age paintings, including Girl with a Pearl Earring, kept the institution in the public eye, touring through Japan, the U.S., and Italy. Following its June reopening, the museum will no longer lend out its most famous work.

As the museum’s star attraction, it makes a certain amount of sense for Girl with a Pearl Earring to stay in place, to avoid disappointing visitors who come specifically to see it. The canvas, nicknamed the Mona Lisa of the North, inspired a 1999 historical fiction novel by Tracy Chevalier that was turned into a 2004 film starring Scarlett Johansonn as the captivating portrait sitter and Colin Firth as the artist.

Now, Girl with a Pearl Earring is joining an illustrious group of artworks that refuse to leave home. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris, Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez at Madrid’s Prado, Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus at the Uffizi in Florence, and Pablo Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Guernica at the Reina Sofia in Madrid, are among the masterpieces that never travel to other institutions.

In many cases, these artworks won’t be moved out of fear that they could be damaged by the journey. Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, for instance, Edgar Degas’s delicate wax ballerina statue, is far too fragile for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to risk loaning it for an outside exhibition or event.

Sometimes, a work’s potential travel plans are prevented by a concerned donor, who, as part of the conditions of their gift, insisted the piece not be shown elsewhere. In other cases, the difficulty lies in the work’s monumental size—some paintings are so large that they cannot even make the journey to a conservator’s workshop, and must be restored in situ. Particularly heavy marble sculptures face a similar problem of scale.

In the case of Girl with a Pearl Earring, the Mauritshuis is wise not to part with its most-beloved work. Following such a long period of closure, the museum is eager to welcome visitors once again, many of whom will be there specifically to see Vermeer’s masterpiece. While art lovers outside the Netherlands might be disappointed, the Mauritshuis has ensured that their trip to The Hague will be worth the journey.

No word if the same fate awaits the art world’s latest literary star, Carel Fabritius’s The Goldfinch (1654), also part of the Mauritshuis collection. As reported by artnet News earlier this year, the small, lifelike painting of a bird chained to a box has been given a more prominent placement in line with its new-found international fame thanks to Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel following the museum’s refurbishment. Now next door to the Vermeer room that houses Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Goldfinch is the only work the museum has relocated post-renovation.

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