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Posts Tagged ‘vermeer’

Last fall I went on a kick and re-read, back to back, a couple of novels about the painter, Johannes Vermeer. I enjoyed both books almost as much as I did the first time around, and they got me thinking about the life of Vermeer, and the lives of artists in general. I see such irony in Vermeer’s story: he died at forty-three deeply in debt and leaving behind eleven children; he also left paintings – fewer than forty, total – that today are known and loved around the world. Most everyone’s seen a reproduction of, for instance, “The Milkmaid,” and prices for Vermeer’s work have soared in our era. A single painting, “The Concert,” stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in 1990, was recently estimated to be worth 200 million dollars.

Quite something, when you consider Vermeer couldn’t pay his bakery bill.

I started wondering: what would Suze Orman think about all this? I mean, if Johannes Vermeer called in to her TV show wanting to buy something – a chunk of lapis, maybe, to complete a picture of a woman in a blue gown; or a new easel, or a camera obscura? I found myself imagining the conversation between Suze and Johannes:

S.O.: Jan, all the way from Delft, welcome to the Suze Orman show.

J.V.: Hi Suze, how are you?

S.O.: I’m fabulous, sweetheart. Jan, what do you want to buy, boyfriend?

J.V.: Well Suze, I need an easel.

S.O.: Sure you do. (Suze might roll her eyes a bit here). An easel – the thing you put a painting on?

J.V.: That’s correct. I’m a painter by trade, Suze, and last week the kids got into my studio, even though the housekeeper’s supposed to keep them out. (Suze shakes her head sympathetically.) They chased the dog in there and managed to knock over my easel. Luckily there was nothing on it at the time…

S.O.: Sounds like a lively household. How much will this easel cost, Jan?

J.V.: Well, to replace the one I had, 40 guilders.

S.O. (with great dramatic flair): Ok Jan, show me the money, sweetheart!

J.V.: Well, the painting I just finished brought in 200 guilders. I don’t have another commission right now, but I hope to, before long. My mother-in-law’s tavern, which I manage for her, brings in a little money. As far as expenses, we live with her, and we don’t pay rent. (Suze nods). My wife and I have ten kids.

S.O.: Did you say ten kids?

J.V.: Yes that’s right.

S.O.: Whew. Ok, go on. Do you have any debt?

J.V.: Well we owe the baker for about two years’ worth of bread…

S.O.: Two years’ worth, with how many people – thirteen, in your household? Not counting the servants? That’s a lotta guilders.

J.V.: I think it’s up to about 400 now…

S.O.: Jan, I hate to do this to you but you are DENIED. (She looks piercingly into the camera). Listen boyfriend, I have a saying: stand in your truth. Numbers don’t lie; and with those numbers you aren’t even able to pay for the bread on your table, right?

J.V.: Well the baker might take a painting in trade – he’s done it before… and I need an easel, or I can’t paint.

Here I imagine Suze isn’t buying it:

S.O.: Look, Jan, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job. But desperate times call for desperate measures, boyfriend. Can’t you prop the painting up on a chair or something?

J.V.: (doubtfully) I don’t think that would work…

Suze would probably pull out the stops and get personal with Jan at this point:

S.O.: Jan, have you ever thought about doing something other than painting? ’Cause let’s face it, boyfriend, when you stand in your truth you know you’re not making a living…

And so on – you get the picture (no pun intended). It’s a little depressing; but I don’t think the vignette ends there. I believe Johannes Vermeer would get off the phone with Suze Orman, take out a loan for a new easel, and get back to painting – despite the doubts gnawing at him, and the problems and frustrations of trying to rub two guilders together to keep ten, soon to be eleven, kids in (wooden) shoes. Fortunately for an admiring world, artists seem to find a way to keep creating.

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