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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Masterpiece Marketing

The crowd waiting to get in to the Frick on Sunday, November 17th

Girl with a Pearl Earring
Today I visited the Frick Collection to see the special exhibit on view through January 19, 2014,  Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis. (Of course, I also went into the rest of the museum, but as I've there several times before, the real draw for me, as it was for the many people waiting around the whole stretch between 70th and 71st and even round back onto 71st -- in the rain as pictured here.)

The visiting  painting that is the unquestioned star of the special exhibit is  "Girl with a Pearl Earring." Not only does it illustrate all the promotions for the exhibit, but it  given pride of place -- the equivalent of a solo performance -- in the museum. It is the only painting hanging in the oval room. Its special position allows visitors enough room to cluster around it without blocking people's view.

The exhibition details tell a rags to riches story about the painting, both in terms of its restoration and in terms of its valuation. The audio guide, relayed that the star painting was sold for the equivalent of just $7, as relayed here:
The history of the acquisition of the Vermeer has by now become legendary. Des Tombe purchased Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in 1881 at a sale at the Venduhuis der Notarissen in the Nobelstraat in The Hague for 2 guilders with a 30 cent premium.  ...After Des Tombe’s death on 16 December 1902 (his wife had died the year before and their marriage had remained childless) it turned out that he had secretly bequeathed 12 paintings to the Mauritshuis, including Vermeer’s famous Girl with a Pearl Earring."4(from Quentin Buvelot, "COLLECTING HISTORY: ON DES TOMBE, DONOR OF VERMEER'SGIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING"in the Mauritshuis Bulletin , volume 17, no. 1, March 2004)

 Why should a painting that originally sold for just $7 become such an attraction? The answer is simple.   It is now Vermeer's  best known painting,  thanks to Tracey Chevalier's 1999 novel, which was the basis of a very successful 2003 movie. Now that's an interesting point in terms of marketing value. The Frick is well aware of the film's role in the painting's popularity and so is offering a showing of it on Monday evening, November 18th, with an exhibition viewing to begin at 5:30 and the film at 6.  

 Not to say that the painting is not worth of attention, but I seriously doubt that it would be considered so great a star if not for the attention cast on it by a bestselling book and well-received movie. It's certainly not the only painting by Vermeer to feature a woman in pearl earrings. One of the three Vermeers that the Frick owns is a later work of his, "Mistress and Maid" pictured here.  But no one wrote a book to popularize the story that the painting seems to tell and then went on to dramatize the same in a film, despite the suggestiveness of the woman's expression at being handed a letter by her maid.

It's something to consider: commissioning a book that could turn into a popular film to cast the spotlight on a particular work of art.

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