Spevak: Enchanted by Vermeer and Rembrandt, too

By John SpevakApril 6, 2013 

Sandy and I were captivated by an exhibit at the M.H. de Young Museum in San Francisco.

The exhibit, which runs through June 2, consists of two displays: "The Girl With a Pearl Earring" (featuring paintings) and "Rembrandt's Century" (featuring etchings).

The paintings are luminous and the craftsmanship is clear in the etchings

The star of the exhibit is a girl, specifically the girl with a pearl earring, in a painting by 17th century Dutch artist Jan Vermeer.

This painting has long been appreciated, but it has received prominence in our times when a novel was published in 1999 and a movie was released in 2003, both with the same title as the paintings.

Vermeer's painting, which was given center stage and drew a continuous crowd, is enchanting not only for the artist's blend of colors and light but also for the girl depicted, who in many ways is as mysterious as Mona Lisa.

This was one of many fascinating paintings in the "Girl" exhibit, on loan to the de Young from the Royal Picture Gallery of the Maritshuis, an art museum in Holland. Maritshuis was willing to lend 35 paintings, because it is closed for renovation.

The other 34 paintings are not simply accessories to "The Girl With the Pearl Earring." They also exhibit the light and vitality for which Dutch paintings of the 1600s are known and admired.

Sandy and I especially liked Salomon van Ruysdael's "View of a Lake with Sailing Ships." The bright blue-white sky in this painting seemed to illuminate the room in which it was displayed. We also enjoyed Pieter de Hooche's "A Man Smoking and a Woman Drinking in a Courtyard," an appealing slice of 17th-century Dutch life, filled with light and joy.

Sandy and I also admired the etchings in "Rembrandt's Century," a display not from a European museum but from de Young's own graphic arts collection. Created in the same century as the art from the Maritshuis, the etchings were a pleasant counterpoint to the Dutch paintings.

Art experienced a golden era in Holland in the 1600s, and Dutch artists used a variety of media. The many exquisite etchings in this exhibit by Rembrandt demonstrate why he is revered today as the preeminent artist of this era.

The precision with which he draws and the character and emotion he displays in black and white are at times astonishing. His "Landscape With Three Trees" and "The Shell" are extraordinary reflections of nature, and his portraits, especially of younger women and older men, capture intense emotions.

Driving two hours to Golden Gate Park and taking a long time to find a parking space is worth the trouble to see this dual de Young exhibit. I recommend taking a break in the museum's café, from which diners can see adjacent trees, grass and flowers.

After the museum closes, I also recommend a nearby Italian restaurant. Located at 5546 Geary Boulevard, Gaspare's is a family-owned place serving pizza and other Italian dishes for almost 30 years.

Inside you'll find paintings of Italy and a lot of plastic grapes, with essentially the same décor it had when it opened. Sandy and I came across this restaurant by chance and later found that many in the area consider it one of the best pizza places in San Francisco.

The owners are originally from Sicily, and the waiter who served us has worked in the restaurant for 23 years. Sandy and I ordered the Gaspare's special, a thin crust pizza with several vegetables, and found it delicious.

Part of our memorable experience were the mini-jukeboxes at each booth, just like the ones we used as teenagers. For a quarter -- still -- we could chose three tunes from the '50s and '60s (like "Wipeout," "Jailhouse Rock" and "Runaround Sue") or songs with an Italian spirit by Mario Lanza and Dean Martin.

We selected "That's Amore," "Non Dimenticar" and "Tequila."

It was the best 25 cents we've spent in a long time.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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