Our art critic longs to see paintings in person once more, and looks to a future where exhibitions may run longer and borrow less from abroad
For three months straight I have stared and stared at an image fixed to my fridge. It is a postcard of The Little Street by Vermeer. The scene is so unassuming – rinsed cobbles, whitewashed walls, one woman stitching in a doorway, another cleaning in a side alley, the Dutch gable facade ascending in high steps against slow and steady clouds: how can it be so mesmerising, I keep asking myself, so inexhaustibly beautiful – so infinitely more than it shows?
The picture hangs in the Rijksmuseum, which reopened earlier this month. I dream of taking a hot air balloon to Amsterdam and smuggling in among the Dutch to witness its mysteries first-hand. My job involves putting words to images. In lockdown, I have tried using postcards, videos, books, magnified reproductions such as the Rijksmuseum’s latest online photograph of The Night Watch – a feat of high-resolution technology that allows you to see single brushstrokes more clearly than Rembrandt ever could. I am grateful to live in an age where we don’t have to keep images in mind solely through the vagaries of memory. But no reproduction can compare to the painting’s exhilarating presence in reality. I’ve filled a notebook with attempts to fathom it, but they’re nothing without the actual living sight.