After 349 years, she still looks amazing, brimming with light, as youthful as ever. There are, of course, cracks, to remind us all of the passing of time, but you don’t really notice them. You are beguiled. Her eyes hold your gaze, as do her parted lips. And then, there is that iridescent pearl earring. There she remains… timeless; perfect youth.
Johannes Vermeer’s mesmeric Girl with a Pearl Earring is a masterpiece in portraiture, or to be correct, a stunning example of a tronie (unreal, imagined, the image of a dream). It is expertly executed, with Vermeer’s command of light at its very best. Her face glows, and you wonder, real or not, who is this girl?
If you now want the opportunity to find out, to see the work, you will have to travel to The Hague in the Netherlands. After a two-year tour of the world, she has returned to her home, the Mauritshuis art museum (which has just been renovated). It is unlikely that she will ever leave.
It has been decided that it is far too risky to transport the work of art to other galleries, let alone other countries. And so it is that the Dutch painter’s iconic painting joins a select group of works that remain at rest. This includes Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (the Uffizi in Florence); Las Meninas by Velázquez (the Prado in Madrid); and Pablo Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon (the Museum of Modern Art in New York).
“So why are all these famous pieces so stay-at-home?” asked the culture writer Cecile Lestienne in the Guardian. “Predictably the principal reason is their state of health. Many of them, including the Mona Lisa, were painted on wood and are very sensitive to climatic changes, making travel a major worry.
“This is equally true of anything made of wax, as is the case with Degas’ original Danseuse, which is dressed in a silk bodice, a tutu and slippers, with a wig of real hair.”
It is hard then to bemoan such a decision, even if it makes seeing the work rather more difficult. Herein lies the problem with art – most other art forms are mobile, art tends not to be.
Beyond the logistics of moving fragile, complicated, large and/or heavy objects, there are many layers of red tape to unravel. The skill that goes into moving iconic works is admirable. Our lives as viewers are a lot easier and a lot cheaper as a result of this; that is certainly true.
Alas, in this instance, at least as things stand, the Girl with a Pearl Earring is not going anywhere. It was inevitable, as the list of static works above demonstrates, for this is just how it is.
What is the implication of this? Well, simply put, it means that where a work has been ‘retired’, and by that we mean its movement is restricted, the impetus is on the viewer to seek it out. How much does that painting, that sculpture, that installation mean to you? If something, anything beyond the superficial, well, you will always endeavour to give it your best shot to experience it.
Cadogan Tate can ship works of art to your chosen destination anywhere in the world.