‘Strictly Critical’ Spends an Hour with Mr. Vermeer

Blake Gopnik and Christian Viveros-Fauné go to the Frick.


Seventeenth-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer belongs to that rarefied group of artists whose work commands equal parts awe and excitement, not to mention hordes of admiring visitors any time works are loaned from important collections and put on temporary view. This was exactly the case with Girl with a Pearl Earring (ca. 1665), the larger-than-life star of a show at the Frick last fall featuring highlights from the Mauritius in The Hague.

Of the roughly three dozen works generally accepted as being by Vermeer, 22 are in Europe and 14 are in the US. Of these, the Frick in New York City has three in its permanent collection: Girl Interrupted at Her Music (ca. 1658–59); Mistress and Maid (1666–67); and Officer and Laughing Girl (ca. 1657).

Officer and Laughing Girl is a painting of an officer with his back turned to the viewer, seated at a table in conversation with an eager girl who clasps a glass goblet and leans forward with a charming smile. The officer’s red jacket and large black hat provide a marked contrast to the tones used to depict the young girl, who is illuminated by a flood of sunlight streaming in through an open window. The painting is nearly split diagonally between dark shadow and brilliant soft light, rendering what the Frick calls “a dazzling study of light-filled space.”

artnet News’ own “Strictly Critical” team, Blake Gopnik and Christian Viveros-Fauné, visited the Frick’s opulent space on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for an indulgent hour-long visit viewing the painting. Their comments were then distilled into a five-minute video. What did they think?

“It’s like a Jerry Seinfeld show, it’s about nothing,” says Christian.

“It’s Kodak that makes us love Vermeer,” quips Blake.

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