Celebrated "Girl with a Pearl Earring" Exhibit Comes to the de Young

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Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis
Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring (c. 1665)

Tracy Chevalier wrote a best-selling historical novel about her. Scarlett Johansson played her in a movie. Softly lit, looking over her shoulder with her lips slightly parted, she is sometimes called the "Dutch Mona Lisa." Who is she? Is she about to say something? And why, for God's sake, is a 17th century Dutch girl wearing a turban?

Johannes Vermeer's enigmatic Girl with a Pearl Earring, the most famous of his 36 paintings, comes the de Young Museum for its first stop on a tour of the United States. As befits its rock star status, Vermeer's small painting hangs in its own gallery in the exhibit, "Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis," which opens on Saturday, January 26, and includes 34 other paintings from the collection.

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Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis
Carel Fabritius' The Goldfinch (1654)

Emilie Gordenker, Director of the Mauritshuis, The Hague, says the painting casts a spell on visitors from around the world who are fascinated by what the young woman's story could be.

"People stand for a long time looking at her, " she said. "There's a hush and a mystery about her that captures all nationalities."

Hosting this exhibit, which includes landscapes, still lifes, portraits, and scenes of everyday life from the Dutch Golden Age, is a big thrill for her -- and for de Young visitors, says Diane Wilsey, president of the museum's Board of Trustees.

"This is the pinnacle of excellence for the Fine Arts Museums," she said. "I doubt we'll ever have paintings of this quality again."

Gordenker said she hopes the exhibit gives people a sense of the range of paintings hanging in the Mauritshuis, a 17th century palace, which she called a "jewel box" of a museum, currently undergoing a renovation.

"She's definitely the showstopper," she said about the museum's signature painting and one of the best known in the world. "But I'm going to be bad and not talk about the girl."

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Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis
Jan Steen As the Old Sing, So Twitter the Young ca. 1668-1670

She went on to highlight some of the other paintings displayed at the de Young, including four by Rembrandt van Rijn, paintings by Jan Steen, (which Gordenker said were representative of Dutch paintings of this era -- "humane, moralizing, and incredibly well-painted"), The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritus, a pupil of Rembrandt's (Wilsey called the little yellow bird with the white background her personal favorite), and Rachel Ruysch's Vase with Flowers.

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Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis
Rachel Ruysch's Vase with Flowers (1700)

Walking through the exhibit, Gordenker pointed out that in this painting many of the flowers in the bouquet are near the end of their life. She said this reinforces the message of many of the Dutch painters of this era.

"Life is brief," she said. "So enjoy it."

"Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings From the Mauritshuis" runs Jan. 26-June 2 at the de Young Museum, (50 Hagiwara Tea Garden, in Golden Gate Park), S.F. Tickets are $25 (includes museum admission).

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De Young Museum

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden, San Francisco, CA

Category: General

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