Vermeer’s ‘Girl’ Shines; China Warriors: West Coast Art

Johannes Vermeer’s lovely “Girl With a Pearl Earring” -- gray-blue eyes, lips slightly parted, wearing a blue-and-yellow turban -- looks over her left shoulder at the viewer with an innocent gaze.

She lives up to her reputation as a Dutch Mona Lisa, not to mention a movie star after her portrayal by Scarlett Johansson in Peter Webber’s film of a decade ago. The 1665 painting is now in a fine exhibition of Dutch and Flemish paintings at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, on tour from the Mauritshuis, the national picture gallery in The Hague, while that museum is being renovated and expanded.

The show is a concise introduction to the Golden Age of art in the Netherlands, when the country was a global economic power and people were mad for paintings as well as for tulips.

Among the 35 works are four Rembrandts, a pair of majestic Frans Hals portraits, landscapes by Jacob van Ruisdael, luminous still lifes by Pieter Claesz and Willem Heda, amusing and touching genre pictures by Jan Steen and Pieter de Hooch of ordinary people going about life, having fun, getting drunk. Through it all is the amazing quality of the light, the huge skies over sea and land.

Another character of these works is their sense of stillness. In one, De Hooch shows a man in a black coat and hat who sits in a chair and smokes a long white pipe while a woman in a red skirt and white coat stands nearby sipping beer from a tall glass. A small girl watches them from the other side of the brick terrace. There’s not much going on, yet it’s quietly spectacular.

‘Rembrandt’s Century’

“Girl With a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings From the Mauritshuis” is accompanied by “Rembrandt’s Century,” a densely installed selection of more than 200 engravings, drawings and other works on paper by the master, his contemporaries and followers. They are drawn mainly from the museum’s permanent collection and range from biblical and mythological scenes to detailed, almost scientific views of the world and its plants and animals.

Both exhibitions run through June 2 at the de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Information: +1-415-750-3600; “Girl With a Pearl Earring” moves to Atlanta’s High Museum on June 23, and a smaller selection of the works will be at the Frick Collection in New York in October.

Imperial Warriors

The world of China’s first emperor is on display at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum in “China’s Terracotta Warriors,” an impressive show of 10 life-size funerary soldiers and horses and more than 100 other objects from the Qin dynasty (221-206 B.C.).

The vast burial site of Emperor Qin Shihuang, the first ruler to unify the country, was discovered in 1974 in Shaanxi province, where excavation continues to this day. Along with an imperial tomb, offices, stables and related structures, the complex had almost 8,000 terracotta soldiers and other figures, along with household and military objects such as bronze bowls, bells and armor.

The terracotta works on display include a mustachioed general in elaborate armor, a particularly determined-looking kneeling archer, a charioteer, foot soldiers and two horses, each distinct in its own way. The other stars of the show are four elegant bronze sculptures of water birds -- two geese, a swan and a long-necked crane -- with thick green patinas that look like healthy crops of moss.

“China’s Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy” runs through May 27 at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco. Information: +1-415-581-3500;

(Stephen West is an editor for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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