English Heritage did not let its “fragile Vermeer” travel to form part of a recent Dutch blockbuster exhibition although an expert suggested the risk of damage was “negligible”, the Guardian has reported.
There would have been 29 Vermeer paintings at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam if owner English Heritage had let The Guitar Player leave its London home at Kenwood House to cross the channel. The work was one of nine Vermeers that were absent from the show.
Correspondence seen by the British paper following a freedom of information request showed Rijksmuseum director Taco Dibbits’ efforts to achieve the loan started with a breakfast meeting at an exclusive restaurant in Mayfair.
The Rijksmuseum apparently commissioned an investigation into the safe transport of the painting from German “vibration mitigation” expert professor Kerstin Kracht, then at the Technical University of Berlin. The Guardian says she recommended “adapted crates” which would render “the risk of damage negligible”.
Dibbits also sent a video showing the transport from The Hague to Paris of a vulnerable painting by Piet Mondrian.
In return for the loan, the painting would be examined and scanned by the museum’s team of curators and scientists, the Rijksmuseum said, emphasising its temporary presence in the Netherlands “for the first time in 225 years would be of great significance to this exhibition”.
This was met with a polite “no” from English Heritage, citing the painting’s “fragile condition”. Following a final plea from the Rijksmuseum saying “we would not have asked if this occasion was not so exceptional”, the exhibition went ahead without the Guitar Player.
The documentary Close to Vermeer revealed this was not the only loan that was refused. Although it lent other works, the Met deemed its painting Young Woman with a Water Pitcher also too fragile to travel. The Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum in Germany said it could not lend Young Woman with a Wine Glass due to student examinations.
The Vermeer exhibition, which ended earlier this month, brought together an unprecedented 28 of 37 known works by the Dutch master and attracted a record 650,000 visitors during its 16 week run.
English Heritage told Dutch News that it had happily lent the Rijksmuseum a work by Barbara Hepworth in 2022 and will be lending Frans Hals’ Portrait of Pieter van den Broecke next year. “We are huge supporters and admirers of the Rijksmuseum,” said a spokesperson in a statement. “We were very excited for their Vermeer exhibition – however, following a careful and detailed assessment by our expert paintings conservators, the sad decision had to be made that The Guitar Player would be unable to make the journey from Kenwood…due to its physical condition.
“This painting is one of Vermeer’s only surviving paintings in near original condition including the canvas being attached – and delicately so – to its original wooden strainer. This makes the work particularly fragile and we simply could not take the risk that the journey to the Rijksmuseum would pose to this historic work of art. Collaboration with other institutions is incredibly important to us, but in this instance protection of the painting had to come first.”
The Rijksmuseum told Dutch News: “We were very happy we could organise such a great show with 28 works by Vermeer.”