A Venerable Fresh Face Goes on Tour

30 January 2012

The No. 1 question from visitors to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, according to Emilie Gordenker, is “Where is ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’?”

The problem is, this beloved Vermeer painting, the Dutch Mona Lisa, as it has been called, doesn’t reside at the national Rijksmuseum at all but some 30 miles down the road in the lesser-known Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, in The Hague.

And late next year it will be in New York.

“They actually sell a postcard of ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ that says, ‘I’m in The Hague,’ ” explained Ms. Gordenker, who is director of the Mauritshuis gallery and was at the Frick Collection in New York this week to discuss travel plans for the painting.

For over a century “Girl” has been hanging on the walls of Mauritshuis within a 17th-century palace, alongside paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and other top-flight masters from the Dutch and Flemish golden age. Although the painting has been popular for several centuries, it was only in 1999, when it became the subject of a best-selling novel and then a 2003 movie starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth, that the image of that wide-eyed girl looking over her shoulder rose to a kind of superstar status.

But the Mauritshuis is closing for renovation in April, and “Girl,” last seen in New York nearly 30 years ago, will be the chief attraction in “Vermeer, Rembrandt and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Paintings From the Mauritshuis,” opening at the Frick on Oct. 22, 2013.

The painting appeared at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1984 as part of a five-year traveling show during the Mauritshuis’s previous restoration. This time the gallery will close for only two years for gentle work on its existing home as well as an expansion into an Art Deco building next door. Having the additional building will give the Mauritshuis twice as much space, including special exhibition galleries and educational space, which have been lacking.

Although the Mauritshuis building and its spectacular art collection are owned by the government, the institution itself is privately run. And while the Dutch government has contributed some funds for the renovation and expansion project, the gallery will be responsible for raising a total of about $28 million for the project. Ms. Gordenker declined to say how much she hoped the traveling exhibitions would generate, but the proceeds would go toward that financing.

The show is more than a fund-raiser, however. It is also an exercise in branding. The Mauritshuis had more than 260,000 visitors last year, but it wants to become better known around the world.

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