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Louvre show: Vermeer was both revolutionary and a borrower

Associated Press logo Associated Press 2/21/2017 By THOMAS ADAMSON, Associated Press
Detail of "The Milkmaid", a 1658-1659 oil painting on canvas by Johannes Vermeer presented to the press during the opening of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) © The Associated Press Detail of "The Milkmaid", a 1658-1659 oil painting on canvas by Johannes Vermeer presented to the press during the opening of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

PARIS (AP) — His luminous strokes produced masterpieces like "Girl with a Pearl Earring."

"Allegory of the Catholic Faith", a 1670-1672 oil painting by Johannes Vermeer is presented to the press during the opening of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) © The Associated Press "Allegory of the Catholic Faith", a 1670-1672 oil painting by Johannes Vermeer is presented to the press during the opening of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

But Vermeer, the unique jewel in Dutch painting's crown, copied ideas from his contemporaries like every other artist, argues a new major exhibit at the Louvre Museum in Paris that opens Wednesday.

"Allegory of the Catholic Faith", a 1670-1672 oil painting by Johannes Vermeer is presented to the press during the opening of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) © The Associated Press "Allegory of the Catholic Faith", a 1670-1672 oil painting by Johannes Vermeer is presented to the press during the opening of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Five years in the making, "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting" presents a third of the Dutch Golden Age master's complete opus to the public. It is the biggest such collection of the old master's work in Europe in almost two decades.

French curator Blaise Ducos delivers his speech during the presentation of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tueday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) © The Associated Press French curator Blaise Ducos delivers his speech during the presentation of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tueday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

It shows that, however revolutionary some elements of his paintings were, Vermeer also heavily borrowed from his rivals.

"The Milkmaid" by Johannes Vermeer is presented to the press during the presentation of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tueday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) © The Associated Press "The Milkmaid" by Johannes Vermeer is presented to the press during the presentation of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tueday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

"In a way, Vermeer is not very original because he picks ideas from different contemporaries. His themes are very classical — music-making, lacemaking — that's been done before," curator Blaise Ducos told The Associated Press on Tuesday during a preview of the show.

Women look at oil paintings on canvas presented to the press during the opening of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) © The Associated Press Women look at oil paintings on canvas presented to the press during the opening of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Ducos said the genius of Vermeer, who died at 43 and produced just 36 paintings, can be seen in how he transformed rehashed themes and techniques.

"The Lacemaker", a 1669-1670 oil painting on canvas by Johannes Vermeer is presented to the press during the opening of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) © The Associated Press "The Lacemaker", a 1669-1670 oil painting on canvas by Johannes Vermeer is presented to the press during the opening of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

"He has a distinct, specific psychology. I think there is a mood in Vermeer that you do not find in other paintings," Ducos said.

"The Lacemaker", a 1669-1670 oil painting on canvas by Johannes Vermeer is presented to the press during the opening of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) © The Associated Press "The Lacemaker", a 1669-1670 oil painting on canvas by Johannes Vermeer is presented to the press during the opening of the exhibition entitled "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting," at Louvre Museum, in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The Louvre has inaugurated a major exhibit of old master Johannes Vermeer, presenting 12 of the Flemish painter's oil canvasses including The Milkmaid. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Vermeer's 12 oil paintings in the show, including "The Milkmaid" on loan from Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, are hung side-by-side with 58 similar works by his 17th-century rivals such as Gerrit Dou and Garard ter Borch.

The exhibit also aims to dispel the widely-held belief that Vermeer was sedentary and seldom left the Dutch town of Delft.

"The show here presents another story ... all the refined paintings here prove that he must have been in touch directly with other paintings and other painters, so both in studios and collectors' mansions," said Ducos. "He must have traveled inside the Netherlands."

The exhibit runs from Feb 22 to May 22 in the Louvre, and will travel to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. in the fall.

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Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamson_K

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