Gifts to Myself

December 26 is Boxing Day in Canada.  Like Black Friday in the US, that’s the time to pick up bargains, and pay half the price you did just two days before.  And like Black Friday, it’s the time for legitimate self indulgence for the common good, our economy.

In recent years I’ve avoided shopping on Boxing Day. I know some people getting up at 5 am to line up for a store opening at 6.  My own experience of the Boxing Day craze had been standing 3 or 4 people deep, stretched out my arm to the sale table and grabbed whatever I could out of it, hopefully something I needed.

Out of curiosity, I gave it a try again this time around… and sure glad I ventured out.  I didn’t have to fight the crowds, and waited just a bit longer in line-ups . But well worth it.  Here are some of the gifts I got for myself at half price: wall calendars which I won’t be hanging up.

I know, prices here are not as low as in the US… we’re always paying a few dollars more in printed products. But just about $10 each, these beautiful art calendars are good buys for me. Best of all, I found all my favorite artists.  Those familiar with Ripple Effects would know.  I’ve posted on Vermeer (Dutch, 1632-75) here, Edward Hopper (US, 1882-1967) here, and images of René Magritte (Belgian, 1898-1967) here and here.  So I was really excited to be able to find big prints of their works.



The 12 paintings are some of Vermeer’s well known works.  The cover of course is the most famous, The Girl With The Pearl Earring (1665).  If you’re interested, you might like to read my reviews of the book based on this painting and the film adaptation here.

I have seen two of the paintings in the calendar, The Lacemaker (1669) and The Geographer (1668-69), both at The Louvre.  Interesting that the calendar prints are about the same size as the originals, or maybe even a tad bigger, for The Lacemaker.  Here are my photos of them hanging on the wall in the Louvre:


But the July print stands out, the only one that has an exterior view.  It’s my favorite of all the twelve months.  The Little Street (1658):



Edward Hopper 16-Month 2011 Calendar


I have 16 prints of some of my favorite Hopper paintings.  A few of them I’ve posted before, asking readers’ opinion on them. Here are a couple more that I’d like to elicit your views:

People In The Sun (1960)




Chop Suey (1929)


Magritte 2011


The cover is the Belgian artist’s work in 1953, Golconda.  Just wondering… is this the origin of the term “rain man”?  Or, are the men going up like balloons?

René Magritte was born just 16 years after Hopper, and died the same year, 1967.  So contemporaries they had been for some years, but a world of difference in terms of style.  I like the realism and existential elements hidden in Hopper’s works, but I also enjoy Magritte’s surrealist and whimsical images, openly challenging our sense of reality:

The Treachery of Images (1929)

Ceci n’est pas une pipe:  This is not a pipe.  Your take on this?


The Interpretation of Dreams (1935)


In the past years, I’ve saved up a lot of visuals just like these calendars, as teaching materials for adult ESL.  But this one definitely cannot be used for vocabulary building.  Just hang on… that may well be what Magritte is saying: ‘In a dream world, a horse can be a door, a jug a bird…’  And for that matter, how do you know you’re not dreaming right now?  Mmm… just wondering, has the movie Inception included Magritte in the credits?





Inspired by Vermeer

I’m just having so much fun discovering the immense influence of Vermeer on his posterior that I must post some more.  Here are a few interesting samples that I’ve found.

Holland has long been renowned for its natural light, and Vermeer has long been credited with his keen sensitivity in capturing that.  Here’s his View of Delft (ca. 1660),  which Marcel Proust called “the most beautiful painting in the world”:

Vermeer View of Delft

Visiting the Netherlands in 1886, Claude Monet adopted Vermeer’s point of view in observing the light of Holland in his painting of tulip fields and a farmhouse near Leiden:

Monet Tulip Fields near Leiden, Netherlands


Look at this famous Vermeer painting entitled Woman in Blue (ca. 1663):

Vermeer Woman in Blue

Van Gogh commented in 1888 on the exquisite artistry of Vermeer’s colors in the painting, “…blue, lemon-yellow, pearl-gray, black and white… the whole gamut of colors.”   He must have really liked Vermeer’s palette:

Van Gogh Self Portrait at Easel


Vermeer loved his subjects by the window.  Here’s another well known painting Girl Reading A Letter At An Open Window (1658), and below, Salvador Dali’s parody, homage, to Vermeer’s signature pose entitled Disappearing Image (1938).  Like Hitchcock, Dali liked to put himself in the picture:

Vermeer Girl Reading A Letter By The Window

Dali The Image Disappears

Tom Hunter Woman Reading A Possession Order

Now here’s a more contemporary example.  UK artist Tom Hunter, the first photographer to have a one-man show at the National Gallery of London, won the Kobal Photographic Portrait Award in 1998 with this poignant picture of a squatter, entitled Woman Reading a Possession Letter:

How about this from American realist painter Edward Hopper, Morning Sun (1952):

Edward Hopper Morning Sun

(For more Edward Hopper, Click Here.)


Director Peter Weir has created some ‘Vermeer scenes’ in his highly acclaimed 1985 movie ‘Witness’, with Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis.  I can’t find pictures of the scene where the young Amish woman Rachel Lapp (McGillis) tending the wounded detective John Book (Ford) in the attic of her Amish house.  That is signature Vermeer.  But this one by the window can give you a glimpse.  Look at the contrast between the light and shadow on the two characters, the innocent and cloistered Rachel Lapp and the street-smart and gun wielding John Book:

Witness Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis


And last but not least, Vermeer’s inspiration on modern packaging and product design.  Click here to read more about it.

Vermeer inspired Dutch Chocolate Cream Liquer


Related Posts:

Vermeer in Vancouver: Noticing the Obvious

Girl With A Pearl Earring

Edward Hopper, William Safire: The Visual and the Word.

Arles: In the Steps of Van Gogh

The Letters of Van Gogh


Sources and links:  All Vermeer paintings, Click here to go to Essential VermeerClick here to Tom Hunter Website. Click here to Webmuseum for Edward Hopper. Click here to Van Gogh Gallery. Click here to Metmuseum for Monet’s Tulip Fields near Leiden.

Girl With A Pearl Earring

The Painting (1665)

Girl With A Pearl Earring

Not much is known about this girl looking back at the artist with her soulful glance.  The pearl earring, the focal point of the painting, is obviously incompatible with her humble attire.  Vermeer has captured a mystery open to anyone’s imagination.  But it takes a master storyteller to create a believable and poignant narrative that can move modern readers three hundred some years later.


The Novel (1999)

Vermeer taught me that Less Is More, and I have been practicing that aesthetic principle in my writing ever since.”     — Tracy Chevalier

You can see it coming… it’s almost like reflex that after seeing a Vermeer exhibition I’d go back to the book Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, and re-watch the DVD of the movie based on it.  Well, especially when I didn’t get the chance to see the painting itself in the exhibition.

GWAPE Book CoverIt was this book that first sparked curiosity in me about Vermeer and his works.  Tracy Chevalier has done a superb job in creating out of her imagination the story behind the girl with the pearl earring, within the realistic social and historical contexts.  She has brought to the surface layers of possible subtexts hidden in this seemingly simple portrait.

I’ve appreciated that she has chosen the social segregation and hierarchical class structure of 17th century Delft as the backdrop of her novel.  So, instead of a sweet little tale or melodramatic story,  Chevalier highlights the complex social reality of power relations between servant and master, artist and patron.  She has masterfully created a scenario whereby the social distance between the servant girl, Griet,  and her master Vermeer, is drawn closer by her quiet understanding and appreciation of aesthetics.  With the same sharpness and sensitivity,  Chevalier has also shown how a wealthy patron can exploit art with his despicable, self-serving lust.

Chevalier’s ingenuity tugs at our heartstrings as we see the innocent and powerless being played as pawns,  no more than flies caught in the web of the rich and powerful.  The struggle between survival and artistic freedom is poignantly painted as irreconcilable subjects on the canvas of financial reality.  And fate teases all.  Yet among all these, the natural light that comes from art and beauty silently seeps through, brushing us warmly with a tender glow.

Do try to get hold of the Deluxe Edition.  It includes 9 full-color Vermeer paintings, which are cleverly incorporated into the story by the author.

Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, Deluxe Edition, published by PLUME, Penguin Group, 2005, 233 pages.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples


The Movie (2003)



Watching the movie Girl With A Pearl Earring is the closest to actually seeing a Vermeer exhibition.  Every frame is like a Vermeer painting with its extensive use of natural light from windows, contrasting the shadows in the interior of the Delft household.  The film was nominated for three Oscars in 2004, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design.  In other words, it’s a pleasure to watch… it has to be because dialogues are sparingly used throughout.  Herein lies the strength of acting and the effectiveness of sound and visual communication.

The restrained performance of Colin Firth as Vermeer and Scarlett Johansson as Griet brings out the reality of the social order of the day.  A servant is not supposed to speak unless spoken to.  And what does a master has to say to an uneducated maid, unless he sees in her the appreciation of art and the clear understanding of aesthetics, of light and shadows, of beauty in the mundane.

Vermeer’s asking Griet to be his assistant and ultimately putting her in one of his works, albeit reluctantly for both, sparks off repugnant reverberation in town, and of course, the fierce jealousy of the painter’s wife Catherine (Essie Davis).  But as flies caught in the web of patron Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), with debts to pay and a full household of mouths to feed, the artist has to bow to reality, and the even lower-ranked servant has to yield to her fate.

The visuals and music are the key to revealing the internal.  Beautifully shot in Luxembourg to simulate 17th Century Delft, the movie is a work of art in itself.  Colin Firth’s usual reticent persona on film fits him perfectly this time.  His taciturn portrayal of the ambivalent artist betrays the struggles within.  Scarlett Johansson delivers a convincing performance as pure and innocent Griet, and her gradual growth on the path of experience, albeit the book, as usual, depicts the inner turmoil more effectively.

The special feature on the DVD is enjoyable as well, chronicling the making of the movie.  I hope though that a Blu-ray version will come out one of these days, for that will indeed do justice to the cinematography and to the original artist, the master painter Johannes Vermeer himself.

~~~ Ripples

CLICK on the following links to go to related posts on Ripple Effects:

Inspired By Vermeer

Books and the Gender Issue


Vermeer in Vancouver: Noticing the Obvious

For more Vermeer, Click Here to go to my post “Inspired By Vermeer”.

Vancouver Art Gallery’s premier summer kick-off is the impressive exhibition: Vermeer, Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art. The exclusive show of masterpieces from Amsterdam’s renowned Rijksmuseum includes paintings, drawings, and decorative arts from 17th century Holland. After five hours at the Gallery, I left hungry for more Vermeer. Overall it was gratifying, but I was expecting just a few more glimpses of the great master.

Of all the 128 pieces of art work, there’s just one Vermeer painting. Placed at the end of the exhibit, apparently the highlight and climax of the show, is Vermeer’s Love Letter (1669). From his signature point of view, peeking through a partial opening of pulled-back curtain, we look into another room and see a maid just handed her mistress a letter. By the exchange of their glances, it seems they’re sharing a secret understanding. This is another one of Vermeer’s works that’s full of potential stories and rich in subtexts. Actually anyone of them is a novel to be written, not less dramatic as Girl With A Pearl Earring.

Vermeer's The Love Letter

Love Letter by Vermeer (1669-70)


17th century Holland was a new Republic that had just gained independence from Spanish rule. The beginning of the exhibits sets the stage depicting a young nation with great maritime power. Domestically, it was a country marked by a vibrant economy and a rising middle class, as well as the flowering of arts and science, architecture and urban planning.

In the midst of such affluence and fresh hope, some of the artists spoke with their brushes as prophets of their time. Among paintings of naval glory and conquests, as well as glimpses of domestic life of the rich, there are also the quiet displays of still life. I must have seen them before. Why have I not noticed their significance previously?

They are paintings of withered blossoms, burnt out candles, hourglasses, books and musical instruments, and most prominently, skulls, eerie arrays of them, decaying bones and teeth. Why all these objects? The audio commentary confirms that they are Vanitas still life, the term rooted in Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities.” And obviously, they are symbols of the fleeting nature of life, the callous passage of time, the transience of knowledge and human achievements:

Pieter Claesz Vanitas Still Life

Pieter Claesz: Vanitas Still Life (1628)


Skulls on a Table

Aelbert Jansz van der Schoor: Skulls on a Table (1660)


On the piece of writing crumpled up is one last word, Finis, The End:

Still Life with Books Jan de Heem

Jan Davidsz de Heem, Still Life with Books (1625-29)

It’s commendable that the rich and powerful were willing to be reminded thus, considering these were once paintings adorning the walls of their affluent homes, a nagging presence they could not ignore. And they must have paid to have them painted.


One of my favorites in the exhibition is Nicolaes Maes’ Old Woman in Prayer. Maes, a student of Rembrandt, had captured the simple piety of the old woman of lowly means: her earnest concentration, wrinkled face and hardened hands, the earthen wares and simple meal, and above all, her meager possessions on the ledge, an open Bible, a lamp, an hourglass and a prayer book. The warm light on her face almost makes her look divine. Maes did not forget to include a comic relief, her cat at the lower right bottom must have known what’s for dinner:

Nicolaes Maes Old Woman in Prayer

Nicolaes Maes: Old Woman in Prayer (1650-60)


Sources: Skulls on a Table from Vancouver Sun. All other paintings in this post: Rijkmuseum, Amsterdam.