Just when we had begun to get used to the Metropolitan Opera New York and The National Theatre London being presented to us on the big screen we are offered a new treat – sharing in an art exhibition from the National Gallery London, in the company of the curator, art experts and a very special guest.
Our pleasure is enhanced by knowing that we are in the company of a thousand other audiences in cinemas a separated as Africa and New Zealand, all taking time out to ponder the life and works of Vermeer.
"Seeing an exhibition through a camera …. is far better than not seeing it at all" writes Roberta Smith, in the New York Times.
That feels like damning with faint praise to me. As one who has been lucky enough to have occasionally visited galleries in New York, San Francisco, Washington, and Europe I have tended either to focus on a very little, to attempt to see it well, or to take a scatter-gun approach, and end up with information over-load. And always I have felt that I am missing something, through not being well enough informed.
In this presentation we take a leisurely view of about half a dozen or so works by Vermeer. Over about an hour and a half we gain a heightened appreciation of how and where Vermeer painted. The musical background, on rare musical instruments, is played by the Academy of Ancient Music. This is particularly appropriate for Vermeer, many of whose paintings contain studies of musical instruments.
While the emphasis is on the National Gallery in London, we also visit the Vermeer room in Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, as well as the Hague, Amsterdam and Delft.
In the company of Tracey Chevalier, who wrote the book that became the film "Girl With a Pearl Earring" we admire the original painting of that name.
Tim Marlow, who hosts the program, says "I think that standing face-to-face with some of the greatest works of art ever made is one of the most powerful experiences in life. (This film) gives us the opportunity to convey something of this power in a cinematic format which brings the viewer as close to the real thing as possible. Sometimes, the camera reveals even more than the naked eye …"
If ever I am fortunate enough to see Vermeer's actual paintings I am confident that they will mean a great deal more to me because of this film.
In the meantime, the music, the sensitive non-intrusive cinematography, and the helpful commentary of people so obviously in love with their subject created a gentle, meditative magical space in which to gain a heightened appreciation of the works of a master.