I've spent most of the week writing thank-you e-mails to the 42 people who contributed to my birthday video, and the rest of the time working on my new novel. So there hasn't been a lot of time for a new blog.
But I'd like to send a short but heartfelt shout-out to the great JOHANNES CORNELISZOON VERSPRONCK (1609-1662), a painter I had never even heard of until a very recent visit to the nearby Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.
Now I've spent my whole life going to museums (my grandmother lived down the block from the Brooklyn Museum), studying art (one of the best courses I took at Sarah Lawrence was from the art historian Carol Duncan), reading about art (my shelves), and producing artists (my son), but I had never, ever heard of the Dutch portrait painter named Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck.
Every time I go to a museum – guaranteed – I find great work, genius work, from some painter I've never ever heard of. And this time, that painter was Verspronck. In some ways it's not surprising that I'd never heard of Verspronck. He's not a famous painter from the Golden Age of the Netherlands like Rembrandt or Vermeer or even Frans Hals, Verspronck's famous teacher. He's not even mentioned in "Gardner's Art Through the Ages" textbook, and I imagine he's not mentioned in Janson or Gombrich. (I would know if my son hadn't taken custody of my copies for the purpose of actually teaching art history.)
But I can tell you that, known or unkown, Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck is a very great artist. The TG, Friends from the East, and I stood in front of Verspronck's PORTRAIT OF A LADY from 1641. We were all absolutely enthralled by the artist's astounding craftsmanship, rendering the different fabrics and textures in the portrait. The neck ruff, the lace, the embroidered velvet, her skin, her jewelry – everything was touchably real. But the artist had more than just the craft to depict the prosperous, contented woman who was his subject: he had the art to reveal her inner nature, the character beneath the perfectly painted surface. Or at least that's what I felt, standing in front of the painting, looking into her eyes, seeing the glow of her skin and the subtle shadow at her temple. Verspronck made me feel the presence of real person from the time-distance of 375 years.
Verspronck showed me, once again, that you can be a "minor artist" and that's still a major contribution, if you can move someone, somewhere. Maybe even someone hundreds of years in the future.
A wonderful Verspronck portrait of Andries Stilte as a Standard Bearer, 1640 – from the National Gallery of Art