Recently an exhibit opened at the National Gallery in Washington DC to little, make that no, fanfare (according to this the Daily Beast/Newsweek article). A contemporary of Vermeer, Metsu still seems to be largely ignored by modern art goers which is quite astonishing seeing that he once drew more favorable criticism and was more widely regarded than Vermeer. Yet today the feeling is Metsu-who?
Upon a Google search for the artist the first batch of sites that come up include Wikipedia, a site dedicated to his work, and the three museums that have been sharing the exhibit as it has traveled around the globe since last year. The Washington Post article, which was last on the page, gives this little exhibit that could a very fine review*. I am a fan of Vermeer, but to have never heard of this painter, well it’s a shame. Although I’m sure that if I actually spent more time reading about Danish painters I would not have overlooked him.
We see many of the same themes and situations in Metsu’s paintings as we do in Vermeer’s, some almost identical in nature**. However, Metsu’s subjects are not as detached from reality. Elements such as carpets, wall trimmings, furniture are reused in several paintings as with Vermeer. However Metsu’s other aspects do not always feel as meticulously prepared or staged. The presence of tableaux is shared by the two artists but the feeling in Metsu’s is more playful, as if your encounter with the subject was accidental. Thirty-four paintings are attributed to Vermeer( there are some fascinating books about men who made a career out of making Vermeer forgeries) but in this exhibit alone are 40 of Metsu’s works – some from private collectors. The exhibit runs through the end of July in the East wing of the National Gallery. If you happen to be traveling through the capital stop and give him a moment of your time. He deserves his fair shake.
*This post was written on May 17 at 11pm and scheduled for publishing at 9am on May 18. On the morning of the 18th, another article about the subject was posted on NPR.
**A Vermeer once sold because it was mistaken for a Metsu.