No, it’s not the Book of Kells… Often it’s hard to pick out just one thing as a real highlight from a trip. Dublin’s most famous work of art is undoubtedly the Book of Kells. It’s beautiful but, well, manuscripts however fine don’t really do it for me.
So if you want to see something equally world class make the short walk over to the National Gallery of Ireland. Entry is free and there’s nothing like the volume of people you’ll find queuing up over at Trinity College.
On display you will quickly find a real masterpiece. It’s a great example of Vermeer at his absolute best. We don’t get the single person focus of A Lady Writing a Letter but a more dynamic Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid.
The two are clearly intimates or the Maid would not be present. Yet, between the women the artist has conveyed a fantastic disconnect. One focuses intently on the message she must write. The other, absent, mindedly stares out through the half revealed window into her thoughts beyond. I’m not a patient person, so I can readily identify with the folded arms and the implicit boredom.
This painting has so many Vermeer motifs: the inside-outside axis, the abstract, geometry, textiles and tightly controlled perspective. Next year it will be the centrepiece of a new and exciting exhibition which will see as many as ten works by Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) come to Ireland. This is nearly a third of Vermeer’s surviving oeuvre and, according to the Irish National Gallery, the third highest number of works by the artist ever assembled in the world.
Like much of Ireland, the painting has seen its fair share of The Troubles and was even once briefly in the possession of the IRA following a heist in the 1970s.
Thankfully, like much of the very welcoming city we saw this past weekend, the painting is now there and ready for all to see and enjoy.