From the onset of augmented reality, it only seemed inevitable that at some point in the very near future, anyone with a smartphone would be able to visit any museum they fancy from the comfort of their bed. Well, get comfy everyone, that future looks like it’s here.
The Hague’s Mauritshuis museum has teamed up with Google Arts & Culture in Paris to create a one of a kind AR experience. They’ve made a virtual museum that features all 36 artworks by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, titled Meet Vermeer. Not only is this unique because it puts Vermeer’s works at the fingertips of anyone with a camera-equipped smartphone, it is the first time it has ever been possible to see all of the 17th-century master’s works in one ‘building,’ if you will. To accomplish this feat in person, one would have to travel from New York to Paris, London to Amsterdam to see only a handful of the painstakingly detailed masterpieces depicting Dutch life. Collectors and institutions with their own Vermeer would never agree to bring the physical paintings to one location; some would simply be far too delicate to travel. They have, however, agreed to the having high-resolution images taken of each work to include them in the new experience.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has contributed images of its five artworks, DC’s National Gallery and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum have both submitted four masterpieces each, two by the Louvre, and three by the Frick Collection. The Hague has contributed images of Vermeer’s best-known work, Girl With a Pearl Earring – sometimes referred to as the ‘Mona Lisa of the North.’ Images of The Concert, which was stolen in 1990 and has yet to be found, have also been given by Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
As of December 3rd, these artworks, and a lot of history about them, became available to Google audiences. ‘This is one of these moments when technology does something that you can never do in real life, and that’s because these paintings could never be brought together in real life,’ said Emilie Gordenker, director of the Mauritshuis.
Vermeer did not produce artworks in the same way that his contemporaries did. While Rembrandt produced hundreds of paintings, Vermeer probably made no more than 60 in his lifetime. There are more than 36 paintings today attributed to Vermeer, but it is not generally accepted that they are by the artist which is why they haven’t made the AR museum’s cut. Interestingly, the works of Vermeer were nearly lost all together. The artist had no followers or apprentices, so after his death in 1675, his name soon followed. Nearly two centuries later, French art critic Thoré-Bürger rediscovered Vermeer and spent the rest of his life collecting works by the artist.
Despite the hard work of Thoré, Vermeer remains somewhat of a mystery. A 2017 study found that 82% of Americans couldn’t name the artist who painted Girl With a Pearl Earring. Google Arts & Culture have thus coined him the ‘most famous artist you’ve never heard of.’ The fragility of his paintings, the scarcity and value of the 36 works, and the lack of knowledge most have of Vermeer make him an excellent candidate for the AR museum debut. Laurent Gaveau, director of Google’s Arts and Culture Lab, expects an extraordinary number of different types of museums could be created but Meet Vermeer will serve as their litmus test.