MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We end today's show with a feast that's more for the eyes rather than the belly. But it's a feast that you can dig into right now at the National Gallery of Art, a retrospective of paintings by the artist Gabriel Metsu. Nearly 400 years ago, the Dutch and the French were wild about Metsu. But it's taken a lot longer for his work to get much attention here in the U.S. In fact, this exhibition is actually his very first in the country. NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg recently went to the National Gallery to check it out.
MS. SUSAN STAMBERG
Rembrandt sure, we all know him, Vermeer, too. But Gabriel Metsu, that's M-E-T-S-U was right up there with them in the 17th century, the golden age of Dutch painting and for long afterward.
MR. DAVID JAFFE
Metsu was still the top boy in the 19th century. Vermeer is a very early 20th century discovery.
Vermeer and Metsu were contemporaries but Metsu was the star says David Jaffe of the National Gallery in London, a lender to the D.C. show. In 1664, Metsu painted his crowd-pleaser, " A Man Writing a Letter". The scribe is young, handsome in black velvet with long, blond curls.
He's in his sumptuous study, a very expensive Persian carpet on a table.
Hung right next to him, bathed in Vermeerish light from a side window Metsu's "A Woman Reading a Letter." The one, the blond cutie was writing no doubt. She has kicked off one shoe, a sexy, little gold-encrusted mule and her yellow top is trimmed with ermine.
The most expensive cloth you can wear, which used to be a royal cloth and you can see the black flecks on her fur. She's accessorized to the hilt.
Expensive clothes, gorgeously painted, fabulous technique, rustic or biblical scenes in early works made in his small home town of Leiden, bustling market scenes and fancier folks in fripperies, the gold, the ermine once he moved to Amsterdam in the 1650s with its booming sophisticated art market. Whatever the subject on all his canvases, Metsu is telling a story, although the narrative is not always clear.
MR. ARTHUR WHEELOCK
What is going on?
Arthur Wheelock is curator of this Metsu exhibition.
Why are these people coming in door? What are they seeing? What's going to happen?
Metsu was a story-teller Arthur Wheelock says, but it's not always clear what the story is. He worked to paint real emotion, real interactions between people. A weeping woman borrows money, others eat, cuddle a pale, sick child.
But giving us a beginning, middle and end to the story was not what he was after.
So you think about it later and you talk about it?
Absolutely. And I think these paintings were huge points of discussion in drawing rooms all through The Netherlands in the 17th century.
He's left wondering. He's a narrative painter, but he's not going to tell you the end of the movie.
Neither did Metsu contemporary Vermeer, but Vermeer was even more mysterious. His exquisite "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and his other women all caught in moments between moments. In Vermeer, their lives are on pause. Metsu's people are coming from somewhere, going to somewhere, but darned if you can tell how it will turn out.
Metsu's painterly star faded in the 20th century and Vermeer became top Dutch boy, Vermeer with his flattened backgrounds, muted colors and his distant gazers looked more abstract to modern eyes. But the National Gallery show here until late July suggests that Gabriel Metsu's time may have come once again.
That was NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg who will be joining us from time to time here on "Metro Connection" to share stories from the local art scene. If you have an art story or any story that you think we should be exploring in the D.C. region, we're all ears. Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook, that's facebook.com/metroconnection.org
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. You heard from WAMU's David Schultz, Kavitha Cardoza and Sabri Ben-Achour, along with reporter Marc Adams. Jim Asendio is our news director. Our managing producer is Tara Boyle. Jonna McKone and Lauren Landau produce "Door to Door." Thanks to Tobey Schreiner, Jonathan Charry, Andrew Chadwick, Margo Kelly, Timmy Olmstead and Helen Quigley for their production help and to Dana Farrington and the WAMU digital media team for keeping our website up to date.
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We hope you can join us next Friday afternoon at 1:00 and Saturday morning at 7:00 when we'll explore Washington and D.C. looking at the distinction between a federal city and its famous monuments and the neighborhoods and local institutions that make that city, well, home. I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 News.
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