Gabriel Metsu (英語) ハードカバー – 2010/10/26
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Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667) employed an unusual variety of styles, techniques, and subjects, making him a particularly difficult artist to characterize. From his early days in Leiden until his death in Amsterdam at the height of his career, his unparalleled mastery of the brush allowed him to paint a remarkable range of history paintings, portraits, still lifes, but most of all, exquisite genre paintings. And whatever his subject matter, his work reveals an unrivalled talent for imbuing figures with a human and personable character.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Metsu held a place as one of the most celebrated painters of the Dutch Golden Age, and his works were acquired for noble collections throughout Europe, while his contemporary Johannes Vermeer was almost unheard of. In the 20th century their positions were reversed as Vermeer’s reputation soared. This enlightening book resituates Metsu as one of the leading genre painters of his time. It offers a portrait of the age through his patrons and his wide network of contacts and colleagues in Amsterdam, as well as analysis of Metsu’s technique as a draftsman and as a painter, and it documents the fashions and fabrics of the time through his work.
"A Man Writing a Letter", the picture on the cover, is arguably the most attractive painting in the book as it's restrained palette and composition, and the highlights on the subject's face bring it closer in spirit to Vermeer's style. Whereas Vermeer's works manage to achieve a rare level of balance both in color and composition through some indefinable artistic alchemy such that even his paintings displaying a range of relatively bright colors (such as "The Love Letter") manage to maintain an effortless rhythm and harmony, Metsu's use of color and the play of light on his figures render his works largely decorative in appearance, while there is often no particular focus in his paintings, so that the eye wonders over an image that never achieves the conviction and quiet repose of the Vermeers.
If this analysis sounds harsh, I should add in mitigation that Metsu's works are extremely competent and decorative, and apart from a few errors of perspective such as the bizarrely distorted cello in "Saint Cecilia" on page 20 as well as the poor rendition of the right side of her face and her right shoulder, his paintings are generally inoffensive. If one is looking for small pleasures in the examination of contemporary costume and surroundings, there is some entertainment to be had from his works. However, one would have to look elsewhere for art that transcends the prettiness of the journeyman's solid renditions. (Metsu's depictions of village life - as opposed to the genre scenes of the wealthy - are particularly uninspiring, although he seems to have a knack for painting chickens as against his particularly incompetent representations of cats!)
Then we come to the production values of the book and this is where it really fails. The reproductions are very dark and not terribly well focused. This is particularly evident when one compares identical paintings from this book and those reproduced in the much superior tome on Vermeer by Albert Blankert, John Michael Montias and Gilles Aillaud (Overlook Duckworth 2007). "The Love Letter" is reproduced in page 42 of Metsu, and page 143 of Vermeer. In the former, the reproduction is so dark that the word Meer on the wall to the right of the maid is almost completely invisible, and the woman's skirt looks brown rather than yellow. A similar comment is to be made regarding "A Woman Writing" on page 40 of Metsu, and page 144 of Vermeer. In the former, the brilliant yellow of the coat is all but gone, and the morning light has turned into dusk. Even more sad is the fact that "Lady reading a letter with her maidservant" by Metsu can also be seen on page 142 of the Vermeer, and the picture is much prettier than the darkened version in the Metsu book which makes the light look like an overcast English day. Although the comments about Metsu's work tending to the pleasant rather than the transcendent still hold, one suspects that a book on Metsu with the production values of the tome on Vermeer would almost be worth owning, if only to delight in his rendition of fabric and costume.
All in all, if one is at all demanding, this book is not worth buying. If you want to see the works of a few contemporaries of Vermeer, the Overlook Duckworth book will provide adequate examples until such time as a high quality publication on the subject appears on the market.