Vermeer "paintings" sent on tour to nursing homes and care centers
The Milkmaid and other works by Johannes Vermeer are on tour in nursing and care homes throughout the Netherlands this year. With the "Closer to Vermeer" project, the Rijksmuseum is bringing replicas of Vermeer's iconic paintings to people who are not able to visit the museum, and who could not attend the acclaimed Vermeer exhibit that recently wrapped up at the museum.
The project began during the coronavirus pandemic when people could not visit nursing homes, explained Cathelijne Denekamp, the manager of accessibility at the Rijksmuseum, in an interview with NL Times. “People felt particularly lonely; these were hard times.” This sparked the idea to bring art into nursing homes as a means of distraction and to enhance their everyday lives. They launched Night Watch on Tour, which showcased four actual-size replicas of Rembrandt’s masterpiece in hospitals and nursing homes across the Netherlands.
Following the success of the Night Watch on-tour project – which is still ongoing – the Rijksmuseum decided to continue this initiative with the works of another Dutch master, Vermeer. A section of the Gallery of Honour in the Rijksmuseum was recreated in a cabinet, showcasing life-size replicas of four of Vermeer's most renowned paintings: The Love Letter, Woman Reading a Letter, The Milkmaid, and The Little Street. The project is a collaboration between the Rijksmuseum, Philips, and the Elisabeth Art Foundation.
The goal is to evoke the sensation of being within the museum itself. "If you are unable to visit the Rijksmuseum, then the Rijksmuseum will come to you," said Denekamp. However, there are a few slight differences that set this experience apart. For example, the paintings are specially lit and hung at a lower height to ensure proper viewing for people who use a wheelchair.
Another difference is their accessibility. “You can touch them," explained Denekamp, who added that it is possible to get very close and examine them on your own at your own pace. "The resolution is high, with many details.” She noted that some people would revisit the cabinet several times to inspect the details. She also pointed out that in the museum, getting close to the paintings can often be a challenge, whereas this project makes art more readily accessible for examination.
Residents react in different ways to the replicas. "It's very emotional sometimes," Denekamp said. "It touches them because they recognize it.” She explained that many recall childhood visits to the museum, memories from decades ago. “The past comes to the surface."
Denise Smits, manager of Anna Ouderenzorg in Geldrop, Noord-Brabant, said everyone was enthusiastic about the project. The Vermeer exhibition is presently at the care home. "We observe that art stimulates meaningful conversations and fosters connection with each other," she told the weekly magazine Middenstandsbelangen last week.
Several nursing homes have even opened the limited exhibit to the general public, inviting locals and school groups to appreciate the art. "Some even turn it into a party!” Denekamp said. This initiative presents an additional opportunity for those unable to secure a ticket for the Vermeer exhibition, which quickly sold out.
The "Closer to Vermeer" project started in March of this year. Nursing homes can submit a request on the website to borrow the replicas for three weeks, at a cost of 250 euros. "We already have requests for two years!" Denekamp exclaimed. She expressed her hope that the project will continue for several years.
A similar project was launched in 2022 when Dutch national railway NS teamed up with Alzheimer Nederland to donate train parts to 22 nursing homes. The nursing homes can use the parts to create train compartments so that people with dementia can experience train travel again without leaving the nursing home.