If only Adolf Hitler had been accepted to art school, the old joke goes, he never would have felt the need to conquer the world. Unable to fulfill his dream of becoming an artist, Hitler rampaged through Europe looting and pillaging its great treasures. One of his trophies, Jan Vermeer’s “Artist in his Studio”, is again at the center of controversy, as Austria’s art restitution advisory board considers on March 18 whether it should be returned to the heirs of its prior owner.
Recently, I found myself spellbound while watching "Girl With a Pearl Earring." This film, based on the excellent Tracy Chevalier novel, is a fictional account of the history behind Vermeer's famous painting of the same name. The novel revolves around a servant girl, Grete, who became a secret assistant to the painter in his studio. In one scene, Vermeer accidentally glimpses Grete with her hair uncovered. The moment is electric. Grete, like all women of her social station, covered her hair at all times. It was as if Vermeer had caught her unclothed.