Jacobus Vrel’s Interior with a Sick Woman by a Fireplace at Norton Museum

The Norton Museum of Art announces the fourth installment of its Special Guests series featuring “A Quiet Abiding: Jacobus Vrel’s Interior with a Sick Woman by a Fireplace from The Leiden Collection” on view at the Museum through December 15, 2024, with other Dutch paintings from the Norton’s European collection. Jacobus Vrel may be the most enigmatic artist of The Dutch Golden Age: A painter of near-empty streets, spare hushed rooms, and figures – usually women – wrapped in solitude in the privacy of their homes.

Vrel’s life largely remains a mystery despite extensive efforts to determine where he was born and where he lived. His name has not been discovered in baptismal rolls, tax documents, academy memberships, or other contemporary records in The Netherlands or elsewhere.

Vrel’s work first came to light in the late 1860s when it was discovered that some of the paintings thought to be by Johannes Vermeer had been made by Vrel. Not only did he paint similar types of subjects, he also occasionally signed his paintings “J.V.,” the same initials as those of the Delft master.

Only one 17th-century document refers to Vrel: the 1659 inventory of the collection of the Austrian Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, former Governor General of the Southern Netherlands. The inventory lists three paintings by Vrel, including this scene of a seated woman leaning against a large pillow. The inventory describes the woman as kranckhe, or sick, which, from her demeanor, is probably accurate.

The chimney, with its leather skirting, holds a simple sconce with a single candle and some plates, probably inexpensive grey and blue ware made in Portugal. The absence of Catholic sacred objects, like a crucifix, marks this as a Protestant household, and a notably austere one.

And what of the woman herself? She may feel unwell, but not so much that she needs to go to bed. As is characteristic of Vrel’s scenes, the woman’s sickness causes no drama. Quite the opposite – hers is a quiet abiding, as she awaits recovery, accompanied by a cat and dog next to a low fire that provides a meager warmth.

The painting is on loan for two years from The Leiden Collection, which was founded in 2003 by American collectors Dr. Thomas S. Kaplan and his wife, Daphne Recanati Kaplan. Named after Rembrandt’s native city, it includes some 250 paintings and drawings, and represents one of the largest and most important assemblages of 17th-century Dutch paintings in private hands.

In addition to its rich holdings of Rembrandt and his followers, the Collection provides the most comprehensive representation of the Leiden artists known as fijnschilders (fine manner painters), and regularly lends work to museums around the world. 

The Special Guest series highlights exceptional works of art on long-term loan from public and private collections. This work is on loan from The Leiden Collection, New York, NY.

About the Norton Museum of Art

The Norton Museum of Art is home to the leading and most far-ranging collection of art in Florida and the region, with distinguished holdings in American, European, Contemporary, and Chinese art and Photography. In 2019, the Norton unveiled an expansion by Foster + Partners, featuring the new 59,000-square-foot Kenneth C. Griffin Building, which greatly enhanced the Museum’s facilities and was accompanied by the complete reinstallation of the museum’s renowned collections in state-of-the-art galleries.

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