Sunday, 14 June 2009

A view from Delft

I finally got round to reading Anthony Bailey’s A View from Delft, about Jan Vermeer, and I’m glad I did. If you’re interested in the everyday you tend to be drawn to Dutch seventeenth-century painting, and Vermeer in particular. X-rays and infra-red equipment now show that Vermeer erased anything that might seem allegorical or symbolic from his paintings of mundane bourgeois life. Bailey writes about the beautiful light in Vermeer’s paintings, speculating that his relatively small body of work may be due to the fact that he waited until the summer to paint because of the light: ‘It is a light that never hardens but slowly moves, shadows moving with it, and indicates both time passing and warmth of life: the power of creation making itself felt in humdrum human circumstances.’

And I loved this description of the way that Vermeer repeatedly frustrates the viewer’s desire to turn a painting into narrative:

The painter thwarts our incessant demands for a story-line by freezing the action, by bringing time to a stop for an instant or two while contemplation exercises its power. The passivity or stillness he creates, reflecting his own nature, is in its way more dramatic, more active, than any action. So the young woman with a metal water jug pauses, one hand on the jug, one hand on the frame of the casement window which she seems about to open further, and the earth for a moment ceases to spin on its axis. So the woman in blue’s downcast gaze travels along the lines of the letter she has received, word by word by word, over and over. Vermeer seizes the moment and it repeats itself indefinitely. And in the same way his milkmaid, his figure of Fortitude, tips her jug and the milk falls from it in a silent stream for ever.

A couple more reviews of my book from the New Statesman and the Telegraph:

And here is the last word on MPs’ expenses from Garrison Keillor’s terrific weekly newspaper column in the US:

Mundane quote for the day:

The daily things we do
For money or for fun
Can disappear like dew
Or harden and live on.
Strange reciprocity:
The circumstance we cause
In time gives rise to us,
Becomes our memory.

- Philip Larkin


  1. I was,at last, persuaded by the reviews of your book to find out about Black Box Recorder. Now I know very little about rock, soft hard or indie, being fixated on old-fashioned balladeers such as Phil Collins and really a jazz and classical music lover. But I'll probably download a few pennyworth of BBR. With which number(s)shall I start? My enthusiasm for learning about them doesn't in this case extend to whole albums.

  2. hi Tom
    The two BBR songs I really like are 'The English Motorway System' (obviously) and 'The Art of Driving,' both from their 'Facts of Life' album.