National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Features Dutch Genius Gabriel Metsu

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artwork: Gabriel Metsu - "Woman Reading a Letter", circa 1665 - Oil on wood panel - 52.5 x 40.2 cm. From the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland. On view in the 'Gabriel Metsu 1629–1667' exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. from April 10 to July 24, 2011.


Washington D.C.- Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667) is one of the most important Dutch genre painters of the mid-17th century. His ability to capture ordinary moments of life with freshness and spontaneity was matched only by his ability to depict materials with an unerring truth to nature. Although his life and career were very short, Metsu enjoyed great success as a genre painter, but also for his religious scenes, still lifes, and portraits. Featuring some 35 paintings, this exhibition will be the first monographic show of Metsu’s work ever mounted in the United States. Organized by the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, in association with the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and the National Gallery of Art inWashington, the exhibition will be on view at the NGA in Washington from April 10 to July 24, 2011.

artwork: Gabriel Metsu - "The Sick Child", circa 1662,  Oil on canvas 32.2 x 27.2 cm. Collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. The son of the Flemish painter Jacques Metsue, Gabriel Metsu was born in Leiden in 1629. In 1644, at the age of fifteen, Metsu is recorded as one of a group of artists who were lobbying for the establishment of a Leiden Guild of St. Luke, and in 1648 he became a founder-member of the organization. With the exception of short absences in the early 1650s, he spent the next decade in Leiden. By July 1657, however, he had moved to Amsterdam. On April 12, 1658 he married Isabella de Wolff, a relative of the Haarlem classicist painter Pieter de Grebber (c. 1600-1652/1653). In January of the next year, Metsu became a citizen of Amsterdam, where he died in 1667 at the age of only thirty-eight.

It has been assumed that in addition to the early artistic training he would have received from his father, Metsu also must have studied with Gerard Dou, who was Leiden’s leading genre painter during the 1640s. This assumption may well be correct, but is not without problems, given that early works from Metsu’s Leiden period tend to be executed in a fairly broad and fluid manner far removed from the meticulously crafted, small-scale paintings of Dou and the other Leiden fijnschilders. With the possible exception of the local painter Jan Steen, Metsu, in fact, seems to have been influenced more by the Utrecht artists Jan Baptist Weenix (1621-c. 1660) and Nicolaus Knüpfer (c. 1603-1655). Interestingly, after moving to Amsterdam, Metsu’s style demonstrates more of the high level of detail and finish associated with the Leiden school.

artwork: Gabriel Metsu - "The Old Drinker", 1657-58 Oil on panel - 22 x 19.5 cm. Collection of the Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam.The influence of several other artists (notably Johannes Vermeer, Gerard ter Borch, and Pieter de Hooch) is sometimes very evident in Metsu’s work, but despite the existence of a sizeable number of dated paintings, these influences occur without any clear chronological pattern, and it is difficult to establish a structure for Metsu’s stylistic development. Metsu’s most widely acclaimed paintings are the genre pictures, generally depicting a small number of relatively large figures within an upright composition. In addition to his indoor genre scenes Metsu painted a handful of depictions of outdoor markets, a number of religious subjects and portraits, and a few still lifes. His only known pupil was the genre and portrait painter Michiel van Musscher (1645-1705).

Now visited by more than 4.5 million people annually, the National Gallery of Art (NGA) is now one of the world’s leading art museums. The NGA was created in 1937 for the people of the United States of America by a joint resolution of Congress, accepting the gift of financier and art collector Andrew W. Mellon. Since its inception, the mission of the NGA has been to serve the United States of America in a national role by preserving, collecting, exhibiting, and fostering the understanding of works of art, at the highest possible museum and scholarly standards. The original West Building, designed by John Russell Pope (architect of the Jefferson Memorial and the National Archives), is a neoclassical marble masterpiece with a domed rotunda over a colonnaded fountain and high-ceilinged corridors leading to delightful garden courts. At its completion in 1941, the building was the largest marble structure in the world. The modern East Building, designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect I. M. Pei and opened in 1978, is composed of two adjoining triangles with glass walls and lofty tetrahedron skylights. The pink Tennessee marble from which both buildings were constructed was taken from the same quarry and forms an architectural link between the two structures.

The East Building provided an additional 56,100 m2 of floor space and accommodated the Gallery’s growing collections and expanded exhibition schedule as well as housing an advanced research center, administrative offices, a great library, and a burgeoning collection of drawings and prints. The two buildings are linked by an underground concourse featuring sculptor Leo Villareal’s computer-programmed digital light project “Multiverse”. The National Gallery of Art has one of the finest art collections in the world, including an outstanding and highly representative collection of European art. The permanent collection of paintings spans from the Middle Ages to the present day. Visit the museum’s thorough website at .. http://www.nga.gov