A New Film: Girl with a Pearl Earring

General / Products / June 5, 2015

First of all, she has no eyebrows.

But piffle! – the viewer barely notices.

The Girl with a Pearl Earring – perhaps Johannes Vermeer’s most famous painting – is so mysterious and enticing that eyebrows hardly matter.

It’s the subject of a new film opening in U.S. theaters for one night only on June 23, along with other treasures from the Mauritshuis, a jewel box of a museum that houses them in The Hague.

“If you can’t see the painting, the next best thing is cinema to get the experience,” says David Bickerstaff, director of the film.

The Mauritshuis is well-known to the art world, but not so much outside of it. When it was about to go through a renovation a few years back, its curators organized a tour for its paintings – to Japan, Italy and the U.S. The exhibition was seen by 2.2 million people before it returned in 2014.

The new film explores a narrative about the museum’s curators, its collection and especially the mystery of the Girl with a Pearl Earring.

“So how do you tell the story of a relatively unknown museum with a world class collection and get across the time of the painting?” he asks. “It’s the story of the Girl with a Pearl Earring weaving in and out of Dutch art against a backdrop of patronage and  politics and the rich middle class.”

The painting of the Girl with a Pearl Earring is what’s known as a tronie – an image of a head that the viewer wants to believe is a portrait, but is not.  “You’d  know who they were with a portrait, which would be a flattery,” he says. “With a tronie, the artist is free to express himself –  it’s mysterious or an illusion.”

The allure of the Girl with a Pearl Earring can be attributed in part to Vermeer’s technique. “He uses very thin paint, with little white dots to make the eyes and lips and the pearl look wet,” he says. “That’s how the painting becomes humanized, with watery eyes and wet lips.”

That way, it’s easy to overlook the lack of eyebrows.

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Michael Welton
I write about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. I am the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015), and the former architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.




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