Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis

Oct 23, 2012

Girl wearing headwrap and pearl earring.

Johannes Vermeer (Delft 1632 – 1675 Delft) Girl with a Pearl Earring, ca. 1665. Oil on canvas, 17 1/2 x 15 3/8 in. (44.5 x 39 cm) Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, Bequest of Arnoldus des Tombe, 1903 (inv. no. 670)

SAN FRANCISCO—The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are pleased to announce that on January 26, 2013, the de Young Museum will be the first North American venue to present Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis, a selection of paintings from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague. The de Young will host 35 paintings from the collection, including the renowned Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, and four works by Rembrandt van Rijn. Highlighting the spectacular artistic achievements of the Dutch Golden Age, these works reflect the culture of artistic, economic, and technological innovation that allowed the Netherlands to prosper in the 17th century.

At the center of this exhibition is one of the world’s most famous paintings, Vermeer’s masterpiece, Girl with a Pearl Earring. This work, sometimes called “the Dutch Mona Lisa,” is one of only 36 known paintings by the artist and rarely travels outside the Netherlands. Though little is known about Vermeer’s life, the quiet grace and virtuoso technique evident in his paintings, and in particular his rendering of light, have placed him among the most important artists of the 17th century. Many of the details of his technique can only be appreciated through close examination of the painting surface, such as the few tiny brushstrokes that indicate the reflection on the pearl, and the broader, more expressive painting of her ultramarine and yellow turban.

During the Dutch Golden Age, a significant shift occurred in both the technique of painting and in subject matter, particularly as secular subjects began to replace religious themes. Portraiture focused increasingly on ordinary people, like the man depicted in Rembrandt van Rijn’s Portrait of an Elderly Man. The sitter seems not to be posed, but presented in a matter-of-fact way that differs from the idealized formality of traditional portraiture. The hierarchical social structure in other European countries no longer monopolized art production in the Netherlands during this time, and as the middle class prospered, an unprecedented market for portraiture developed. Successful individuals, married couples, and civic leaders wanted likenesses to pass on to posterity.

Like the more relaxed approach to portraiture, the paintings known as genre scenes also mirrored life as it was actually lived in the Netherlands. These often depicted some aspect of everyday life, like informal musical performances or simple domestic activities. Jan Steen’s painting The Oyster Eater is an example of telling a story using a domestic setting. Lavish detail is used to depict the space, furnishings, and costume. However, as is often the case with Dutch paintings, something more is going on: the young woman looks out to the viewer with a coy glance that is open to interpretation. Is her meal simply interrupted or does she also invite us to join her in eating oysters—the food of seduction?

The Dutch were proud of the commercial success and technological achievements that supported the Netherlands’ thriving economy during the 17th century, including the massive engineering projects that allowed the country to reclaim large areas of land from the sea. Landscapes like View of a Lake with Sailing Ships by Salomon van Ruysdael can be read as descriptions of the Dutch countryside, but they also often reference technological innovations. Here Ruysdael includes ships designed specifically to navigate the shallow waterways of the Netherlands, as well as the windmill and portage equipment in the distance.

Taken as a whole, this exhibition reflects the political, economic, technological and cultural accomplishments of an extraordinary society. The Fine Arts Museums are thrilled to have this rare opportunity to share these works from the Mauritshuis, paintings that exemplify the brilliant flowering of the Dutch school and continue to intrigue and delight to this day.

About the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis
This prestigious Dutch museum, which has not lent a large body of works from its holdings in nearly 30 years, is undergoing an extensive two-year renovation and expansion that makes this opportunity possible. Following two stops at Japanese institutions, the exhibition debuts in the United States at the de Young Museum, then travels to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in the summer of 2013. A smaller selection will be on view at The Frick Collection in New York in October of 2013. Emilie Gordenker, Director of the Mauritshuis, comments, “We are delighted to have three excellent museums as partners for our U.S. tour. This agreement allows us to present our collection on both the west and east coasts of the United States, in large as well as more intimate venues.”

Housed in a magnificent 17th-century city palace, the museum is celebrated for its masterpieces from the Dutch and Flemish Golden Age, including paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Steen, Hals, and Rubens. The works on permanent display provide a magnificent panorama of Dutch and Flemish art of the 15th to 17th centuries; from Flemish primitives to sunlit landscapes, from biblical characters to meticulous still lifes, and from calm interiors to humorous genre scenes. The core holdings of the Mauritshuis were acquired by Stadholder William V, Prince of Orange-Nassau (1748–1806), whose son, King William I (1772–1843), presented them to the Dutch nation in 1816. Consisting of nearly 300 works in 1822, the holdings of the Mauritshuis have grown to approximately 800 paintings.

Exhibition Catalogue
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis, published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in collaboration with the Mauritshuis, The Hague. The volume guides readers through the highlights of the museum’s magnificent collection and features 35 masterpieces of portraiture, landscape, genre painting, history painting, and still life, each accompanied by text illuminating its context and significance. Curatorial essays provide an overview of the extraordinary world of the 17th century Dutch Republic, explore the history and future of the Mauritshuis building and collection, offer an in-depth look at Girl with a Pearl Earring, and chronicle fascinating conservation treatments and technical research undertaken by the museum on behalf of its treasures. 144 pages. Hardcover $34.95/$31.46 members. Available in the Museum Stores or online.

Exhibition Organization
This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco with gratitude for exceptional loans from the collection of the Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Major Patrons
Penny and James George Coulter, David Davies and Jack Weeden, Cynthia Fry Gunn and John A. Gunn, J. Burgess and Elizabeth B. Jamieson

Opening Week Major Patron
Diane B. Wilsey

Major Sponsor
The Bernard Osher Foundation

The Selz Foundation, Inc., The Richard C. von Hess Foundation

Phoebe Cowles and Robert Girard

Mr. and Mrs. William Hamilton, The Netherland-America Foundation, Greta R. Pofcher

Media Sponsors
San Francisco Chronicle \, KOIT 96.5 FM

Community Partners
Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, SFMTA

Supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities. The catalogue is published with the assistance of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment for Publications. Generous support is also provided by the Ross Auxiliary of the Fine Arts Museums and the Mildred Antrobus Charitable Remainder Unitrust.

Visiting \ de Young
Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118

Museum Hours
Tuesday–Sunday 9:30 am–5:15 pm. Friday (late March – late November) 9:30 am–8:45 pm. Closed Mondays.

$25 adults; $22 seniors; $21 college students with ID; $15 youths 6–17. (These prices include general admission.) Members and children 5 and under are free. General admission is free the first Tuesday of every month. ($15 dollar surcharge for special exhibition still applies.)

Tickets can be purchased on site and online. Tickets purchased online include a $1 handling charge.

Group ticket reservations available by emailing

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The de Young is housed in a copper-clad landmark building designed by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron. It showcases the institution’s significant collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; art from Oceania, Africa, and the Americas; a diverse collection of costumes and textiles; and international contemporary art.

The Legion of Honor’s Beaux-Arts style building designed by George Applegarth is located on a bluff overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Its collections span 4,000 years and include European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West.

Images from all exhibitions and museums available upon request.