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Vermeer: A View of Delft Paperback – April 1, 2002

4.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Longtime New Yorker writer Bailey has been an extremely prolific critic and biographer (Standing in the Sun: A Life of J.W.M. Turner, etc.). This study of the 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and Vermeer's times is his 22nd title. Highly dependent on books by specialist scholars like Albert Blankert and Svetlana Alpers, this overview also repeats a lot of the local color as evoked in splashy recent evocations of the Dutch Golden Age by the bestselling Simon Schama. Less posturing and operatic than Schama, Bailey constantly repeats the formulations "may have" and "might have" until the reader becomes aware of how little is still known about the mysterious Vermeer, who is widely considered one of the greatest painters ever, although only a few dozen of his works survive. Speculations even extend to humdrum details of whether or not Vermeer owned a pet, without focusing on the ultimate question of how this apparently dull and ordinary Dutchman created immortal masterpieces of art. Sometimes a little more historical context would be welcome, such as when Bailey criticizes the "ignorance" of 19th-century historian Jakob Burckhardt for dismissing untalented artistic imitators of Rembrandt, when it's generally well accepted that far too many 19th-century painters were dreary Rembrandt wannabes. The liveliest pages record the fondness for Vermeer of villains from Hitler to thieves from the IRA. Heavier on history than art appreciation, this fluent if unoriginal summing up of some current themes of Vermeer study will appeal to non-art historical readers in search of a journalistic compendium of the subject. Illus. not seen by PW. (Apr.) Forecast: With the blockbuster Vermeer retrospective more than a few years gone, and the Bailey name less in evidence on the New Yorker's pages, this book will have to rely on Vermeer enthusiasts searching it out. Yet Tracy Chevalier's popular fictionalization of the Vermeer household, Girl with a Pearl Earring (1999), shows they may do just that, and the book has few recent, generalist competitors.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Fluent essayist and New Yorker contributor Bailey (Standing in the Sun, LJ 1/99) gives a personalized overview of Johannes Vermeer, reading from the paintings to the man, and vice versa. Much of Bailey's factual underpinnings comes from the work of John Montias (Vermeer and His Milieu, 1989. o.p., and Artists and Artisans of Delft, 1982. o.p.), but he has a penetrating eye himself, and Vermeer, of whom so much is unknown, is a topic of perpetual interest. Organized around individual paintings, Bailey's essay begins with the great gunpowder explosion of 1654 and ends with the reverberations of Vermeer's art in the writings of Marcel Proust and the forgeries of Hans Van Meegeren. A meditative personal chapter follows, addressing Vermeer's seeming ability to stop time in his paintings. Bailey effectively retells much that is known about many of Vermeer's contemporaries, such as the scientist Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek, and speculates on his apparent Catholic faith in the Protestant Netherlands. Highly recommended for general collections and also for art history collections for its broad view and effective style. (Plates not seen.) Jack Perry Brown, Art Inst. of Chicago Libs.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Owl/John MacRae Books
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; 1st edition (April 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805069305
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805069303
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,137,925 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'm certainly no expert on the non-fiction genre and definitely no expert on art history but I do know a well-researched and enjoyable piece of work when I come across it. I came in the backdoor on this one having become fascinated by Vermeer after reading Tracy Chevalier's Girl With A Pearl Earring. I followed that one up with Susan Vreeland's Girl In Hyacinth Blue and then came across Anthony Bailey's book. What a wonderful way to continue my journey into this author's own portrait of this master painter and what a surprise to find that it contains black and white and some color pictures of Vermeer's paintings as well.
While very little is known about Vermeer's life, through the genius of Bailey, you come away from this book feeling you know the man. What we do know is that he lived in the mid 17th century, was a Reformed Protestant until he married the Catholic Catharina Bolnes and fathered 11 children as well as 35 masterpieces. At a time when painters were in abundance in Delft and industry was striving, the picture of Vermeer is still that of a struggling artist trying to feed and clothe a large family. It is a wonder, Bailey points out, that amidst all the noise and commotion that must have gone on in his house and the financial problems that must have weighed heavily on his shoulders, that he was still able to paint such masterpieces that put the beholder at ease merely by their stillness. Vermeer was never an "all-inclusive artist" notes Bailey and none of his paintings incorporate a single flower. He favored the use of the "local colours" of yellow, white and blue. Bailey also notes that he was "fond of rendering the effects of sunlight and sometimes succeeded to the point of complete illusion.
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Format: Hardcover
Anthony Baily's biography of the elusive Vermeer is really a study of the Netherlands, or more specifically, the town of Delft, in the mid-seventeenth-century. I suppose there is no other way to write a biography of a man of whom so little is known, and Baily's efforts are resoundingly successful. His descriptions of city scenes, cultural events, churches, houses, markets, etc., are rendered with astonishing skill and verve. His thumbnail history sketches are always lively and never seem rushed. There are surely more detailed studies of Vermeer's work, but Baily is far more interested in placing the artist in his context than he is in producing the definitive read of the master's painting. And while readers interested in all of Dutch culture in the Golden Age might find Simon Schama's "Embarrassment of Riches" a more detailed and global work, I think Baily is by far the superior writer, and the reader comes away with a full and stimulating picture of Vermeer's world.
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Format: Hardcover
Anthony Bailey is the ideal author to write about Vermeer: like his subject's paintings his prose is quiet, calm, introspective, and serene. He illuminates Vermeer and his work, but as in the paintings discussed the light is gentle, and golden, never harsh - like a good poet, Bailey leaves plenty of room for the reader to reflect on his/her reality as he describes his subject.
It's wonderful to think of Vermeer painting his silence-drenched, calm and mysterious images amid the noise and tumult of his house filled with eleven children. Perhaps his paintings were a world of perfect order and quiet that he could retreat to when his messy and noisy surroundings became overwhelming. I also liked Bailey's point that perhaps Vermeer painted so few images because almost all of his best work had sunlight streaming through a window, and the Dutch climate doesn't offer too many sunny days to paint from!
The book opened with a bit more 15th and 16th century Dutch history than I would have cared for, but hold tight, once he switches his focus to Vermeer's paintings the book takes flight, and you will never look at the paintings in the same way again. The black and white reproductions don't do the paintings justice however - I'd recommend having a book of color reproductions of the paintings (there are only 37 known Vermeers!) next to you as Bailey gently helps you see these familiar images in wonderfully new ways.
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Format: Paperback
Anthony Bailey's somewhat misleadingly titled Vermeer not-quite-biography is meticulously researched, lovingly detailed, and suffused with a powerful affection and appreciation for both Vermeer's painting and Dutch history. It is only ever less than fascinating when dealing with the old master himself.
So little is known of Vermeer as to leave his biographers only slightly better off than those of Shakespeare, imagining that this document indicated this mood, this painting signifies that political opinion...such supposition is not terribly interesting to the lay reader.
But in his detailed recreation of 17th century Delft and his lush and delicate descriptions of the major canvases, Bailey makes up for the limitations of his subject. This period of Dutch history is so rich it seems almost a shame to spend so much of the text on a figure about whom so little is known, and Bailey recounts it beautifully.
An excellent book, then, unless one really wants a biography of Vermeer.
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