The National Gallery’s Summer Exhibition is a wonderful bringing together of Dutch art and the music which inspired many of its subjects; not only will you be able to see some of the greatest examples of 17th-century paintings by Vermeer, Gerrit Dou and others, but the exhibition includes some fabulously beautiful instruments – and just to put the final touch, for the first time ever, the National Gallery is embarking on a collaboration with an orchestra, in this case the Academy of Ancient Music. On three nights a week, musicians from the AAM will perform works of the period in the exhibition space, so you’ll be able to get close to Vermeer’s keyboard players and then listen to the kind of music they knew.
The exhibition explores the ways in which music is used as a motif in Dutch painting, and as a pastime in the family home in the 17th-century; it aims to give a rounded portrait of this part of life in the Netherlands, juxtaposing works by Vermeer and his contemporaries with instruments and songbooks of the period, with live performances to enhance the sense of completeness. Whether the painting is a domestic interior or a portrait, these works employ music as symbolic of harmony and balance, or of the fragility of life and the longevity of art, or they simply state the nature of the sitter’s status or the special quality of those sun-dappled courtyards, shady rooms and glowing fabrics.
Three of Vermeer’s best-loved works are beautifully displayed as the exhibition’s centrepiece; The Guitar Player (on loan from the Iveagh Bequest) is flanked by the two paintings of a young woman playing a Virginal – The Music Lesson is also being shown, on loan from the Queen. As well as these well-known depictions of solo players, there are many examples of amorous encounters, musical gatherings and allegorical compositions in which music plays a part. The exhibition’s curator hopes that “…gallery visitors will experience the same sort of pleasurable musical associations our 17th-century predecessors would have had when looking at these evocative paintings…”
Vermeer and Music in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery runs from June 26th to September 8th, and is supported by the Hata Stichting Foundation, the Blavatnik Family Foundation, Susan and John Singer and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.