Dutch Artists Compete to Paint Like Vermeer in New Reality Show

The contestants are tasked with recreating six of the old master’s lost works

Experts give contestants advice about Vermeer’s lost paintings
On the show, experts give contestants advice about Vermeer’s lost paintings. Omroep Max

A group of artists is given four months, all the necessary materials and a brief description of a long-lost painting as a guide. With this prompt, who will create a painting worthy of a 17th-century Dutch master?

In a new reality show out of the Netherlands, amateur and professional painters alike compete to recreate six of Johannes Vermeer’s lost works of art. The results are judged by Vermeer experts from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and the Hague’s Mauritshuis. “The New Vermeer,” a six-episode series that premiered February 12, has been a runaway hit in the Netherlands.

“The mash-up of highbrow culture and mass entertainment has been an instant sensation in the Netherlands, with 1.3 million viewers (in a country of 17 million) tuning in for the first episode,” writes Nina Siegal for the New York Times.

The series was planned to coincide with the blockbuster Vermeer exhibition currently on display at the Rijksmuseum. The museum pulled together about 28 of the artist’s 35 known paintings for the show, which is the largest collection of Vermeer’s work ever to be displayed all at once. 

“The New Vermeer” focuses on six of the famed painter’s lost works: The first, titled The Concert, was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston as part of the famous heist in 1990. Experts only know about the other five pieces through brief written descriptions in inventories and auction records.

The success of “The New Vermeer” reflects the increasing interest in the artist during the Rijksmuseum show, says Pieter Roelofs, the exhibition’s curator and one of the reality show’s judges, to the Times

“The idea that people from all around the globe are arriving for this exhibition makes the Dutch understand that this is really something special,” he says. Vermeer “is beloved, and now people want to know more.”

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Each episode of the reality show features two side-by-side competitions: In the first, professional painters try to recreate the work of the Dutch master as faithfully as possible, while another group of contemporary and amateur artists aim to capture the spirit of Vermeer’s work in their own signature creative styles.

The winning Vermeer recreations will go on view at the Mauritshuis, and the winning contemporary pieces will go on display in Museum Prinsenhof in Delft, Vermeer’s hometown, reports Artnet’s Sarah Cascone.

“That’s the way I taught myself to paint. I looked at Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rembrandt, all the classical masters … and now I get the opportunity to be with all these specialists,” artist Maudy Alferink, a contestant on the show’s first episode, tells CBC Radio’s “As It Happens” host Nil Köksal. 

“I hope that it is motivating people to visit more museums,” she adds. 

Other museums are trying similar approaches to reach new audiences. “​​The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist,” a new reality show by Smithsonian Channel and MTV, just premiered last week. The production follows seven up-and-coming artists as they compete for a $100,000 prize and an exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

The goal of “​​The Exhibit” is “radical accessibility,” said Melissa Chiu, the Hirshhorn’s director, in a statement last month. She hopes the show will “introduce audiences, wherever they are, to art making.”

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