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Upper East Side Girls: Nine of Vermeer’s Maids Living In Manhattan

There’s something about New York—the power, the money, the energy—that attracts the most beautiful women from all over the earth—350-year-old Delft maidens included. Odd as it may seem to regular consumers of high European culture, New York City, and specifically the Upper East Side of the borough of Manhattan, holds more examples of Delft master Joannes Vermeer’s art than any other city in the world. Between two of our most beautiful, ornate museums, New York holds eight total paintings by Vermeer. That might not seem like a lot, until you consider that eight canvases equals roughly 20% of the 37 known surviving works by the Dutch painter (including one missing painting that hasn’t been seen since the legendary Gardner museum heist of 1990). Now, for those who want to truly understand and experience the art of Vermeer, there’s no better way than grabbing a copy of our newly released “ART + TRAVEL EUROPE: Step Into the Lives of Five Famous Painters” and getting yourself over to Delft in the western Netherlands. But if you’re a Big Apple resident, or just passing through our gritty city, here are some Upper East Side ladies we’d like you to meet.

The first three Vermeer maidens live inside the glorious Frick Collection, now celebrating it’s 75th year of offering the public a very different, very European take on the museum concept. Housed in one of New York’s greatest private homes, the Frick boasts a predominately pre-Modern, Continental collection of old masters and familiar names. There is no attempt here to be comprehensive when it comes to the history of art and, enjoyably, the arrangement of works owes more to the eccentricities of the building and the aesthetic choices of the museum’s talented curators than any sort of thematic plotting. Here you’ll find Vermeer masterpieces like the dramatic “Mistress and Maid” and the powerful, mercurial “Officer With Laughing Girl”—a charming visual mystery reminiscent of the “Mona Lisa” that is one of the the artist’s “Greatest Hits”. Of particular interest is the arresting “Girl Interrupted in Her Music”. Rougher and more emotionally complicated than many of Vermeer’s experiments in light, “Girl Interrupted” leaps out from the Frick’s walls, surprising passersby.
Just a short walk up Fifth Avenue stands the Metropolitan Museum of Art which is, in many ways, the complete opposite of the Frick. Whereas the Frick is intimate, sharply focused, and very personal, the Met may indeed be the most comprehensive, multidisciplinary, multicultural museum in existence. Even if it isn’t, it still has more Vermeers in its permanent collection than any other institution. The famous works are all here—“Study of a Young Woman”, “Woman With a Lute” and the iconic “Young Woman With a Water Pitcher“—perhaps the most famous Vermeer in the New World. On top of these three masterful window studies (the setting so intimately associated with Vermeer) are two rather odd and opulent examples of his oeuvre. While “Allegory of Faith” is immediately striking, it also seems highly melodramatic and posed compared to the impromptu effects so perfectly executed in the other New York Vermeers. That candid quality shines through in “A Maid Asleep”, one of the Delft master’s most eerily photorealistic works.
And there you have it—two museums, eight paintings, nine women all in one city on one avenue. We suggest you round of this easy afternoon of Vermeer stalking with a trip up to the Guggenheim’s excellent new modern ground-floor restaurant, The Wright. It’s fine food and lack of visual clutter should be the perfect place to rest your eyes and feet. Don’t forget to bring along a copy of “ART + TRAVEL EUROPE: Step Into The Lives of Five Famous Painters”. Even if you’re walking the streets of Manhattan and not Holland, it’s still the most invaluable guide to the life of Vermeer you can fit into your handbag.
The Frick Collection
1 East 70th Street
New York, New York, U.S.A.
(212) 288-0700
Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York, U.S.A.
(212) 535-7710
The Wright
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York, U.S.A.
(212) 427-5690
Top: Detail of “Girl Interrupted in Her Music”, Joannes Vermeer, c. 1658-1661, courtesy of the Frick Collection.
Middle (clockwise from upper left): “Officer and Laughing Girl”, Vermeer, c. 1655-1660, The Frick, “Mistress and Maid”, c. 1666-1667, The Frick, “”Girl Interrupted”, “Woman With A Lute”, c. c. 1662-1664, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Bottom (clockwise from upper left): “A Maid Asleep”, c. 1657, “Young Woman With A Water Pitcher”, c. 1662-1665, “Allegory of Faith”, c. 1670- 1674, “Study of A Young Woman”, c. 1665–1674, all courtesy of the Met.

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