Three minutes alone with Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’

An imposing black iron fence creaked open. My wife and I were escorted down the walking ramp by a security guard. Upon entering, we immediately headed to the cashier and then beelined straight for the stairs.

We were not running, I would say, “walking with a purpose.”

Up one large flight of stairs and then to the next. 

Making it quickly to the top of the third flight, I looked to my right and thought, “sorry Rembrandt.” No time for you either, Rubens.” 

Exiting the stairs, two left turns and there she was.

Zaandam not Amsterdam

I’m sorry, I should rewind to the beginning of my story. 

In the late spring of 2019, my wife, Debbie, and I took a week-long vacation to Amsterdam.  That was the plan anyway. When I booked our reservations six months prior, I was not familiar with the area. 

I saw a photo of the Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Zaandam and thought, “if that isn’t a cool building, I don’t know what is?” I booked it.

Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Zaandam
Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Zaandam

Come to find out, the hotel I booked was in the town of Zaandam, on the outskirts of Amsterdam. 

In other cities this might have been an issue, but not here.  With its fantastic rail system and a stop right next to our hotel, we could be at Amsterdam Centraal within 15 minutes.  Plus, the town of Zaandam is amazing in its own right. 

Exploring Zaanse Schans was one of the best days of our trip, making staying in Zaandam one of my best mistakes.  I highly recommend checking it out if you travel to Amsterdam.

Cut to the last full day of our vacation. It was a Friday morning around 6 am. I am what you call an early riser. I love seeing the sun rise. My wife, on the other hand, does not reciprocate my feelings about the early morning. 

Having said that, on this Friday morning, we needed to catch the train outside our hotel at 8 am for the hour-long ride to The Hague.

We arrived a little after 9 am with plenty of time for the estimated ten-minute walk ahead. I was feeling good. Our destination: the famed Mauritshuis. 

The Mauritshuis

The Mauritshuis is home to the best of seventeenth century Dutch painting. For my visit, however, I only had one painting in mind.

Everything was going as scheduled.

My wife and I enjoyed our casual walk through the streets of The Hague. We rounded a corner first setting our eyes upon the intimidating black iron fence with the gold ornamentation that surrounds the magnificent seventeenth century home-turned-museum.

The Mauritshuis in the Hague
The Mauritshuis in the Hague

Arriving 45 minutes before the museum opened, my ego was crushed. 

All the planning to catch the right train. All the suffering I went through for waking my wife up early. The depredation of missing out on my now traditional waffle-with-chocolate-and-strawberries for breakfast. All was for naught. 

When I came to the admission gate, I was second in line. SECOND!!! 

Once I was able to rally from my despair, Debbie and I walked around the building to sightsee briefly before joining the line as it was starting to grow. 

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Back to the top of the stairs on the third floor. There she was. Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring

From everything I had heard about the popularity of the painting, I was expecting the room to be full of visitors, security guards and museum staff. Imagine my shock when after we made that second left we found the room COMPLETELY EMPTY. 

Not a single other person inside. 

Me, my wife and Vermeer. 

I remember thinking, “this can’t be right.” 

Debbie and I had a full three minutes alone with Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who focused on domestic, interior scenes during the seventeenth century. He painted Girl with a Pearl Earring around 1665.

All for us.

One of the world’s most famous paintings an arm’s length away and all to ourselves. 

I took in every bit of color, every brushstroke, every craquelure that has been handed down over the past three hundred plus years. The intimacy of the experience was staggering.

It was one of the most memorable art and travel experiences I can remember. Like any fairytale, however, it was not to last. Another couple with the same idea could be heard shuffling quickly up the stairs. When they turned the corner, I remember hearing a bit of disappointment in their breath when they saw us already standing there. 

With that, my wife and I smiled, nodded “hi,” and walked away so they, too, could have private time with Vermeer. 

We made out OK. We walked to the other side of the room to stand in front of Vermeer’s View of Delft and three more minutes alone with another one of art history’s greatest masterworks.

Vermeer’s ‘View of Delft’

What work of art would you like “three minutes” alone with?

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1 Comment
  • Tori
    March 4, 2021

    Thanks Dan, beautifully written and love the photos. Cannot wait to get back to Europe to soak in some Masters. ??