Vermeer fever: documentary on blockbuster Rijksmuseum show reaches record number of UK screenings

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Vermeer is not just breaking records at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The blockbuster show—450,000 tickets sold out in two days—has also been caught on camera for the hit documentary Vermeer: The Greatest Exhibition. Produced by the company Exhibition on Screen, the new film on the Dutch Old Master will be shown on more cinema screens in the UK than any previous art film.

The 90-minute film offers a “private view of the sublime retrospective”, says The Sunday Times, and “is generating a frenzy to match that of the actual exhibition”. More than 310 cinemas across the UK are screening the Vermeer film, from Everyman in Winchester in the south of England to the Robert Burns film centre in Dumfries, Scotland. The number of screenings is the most any art film has had in the UK, adds the report.

Exhibition on Screen declined to comment on the number of tickets sold but the Vermeer documentary is the company’s highest ever grossing release after two days in cinemas (released 18 April), says a statement. The Rijksmuseum did not respond to a request for comment at the time of writing regarding whether it received a fee for participating.

In an online interview Phil Grabsky, executive producer of Exhibition on Screen, discusses the film with the documentary director, David Bickerstaff. Highlighting how there are 28 paintings on show by Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum, Grabsky asks: “If the exhibition had only been 15 Vermeers, do you think it’s a slightly weaker film?”

“There’s absolutely no doubt… When you see them one after the other… you can see the progression of his mastery and the themes that he keeps developing,” Bickerstaff says.

Grabsky stresses the crew had privileged access to the exhibition while the director says he found that paintings he had not seen before made an impression. “I had not seen The Allegory of Catholic Faith (around 1670, on loan from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) before which is one of the final paintings… he has brought all his craft to it, the theatrical set, the central figure with the dramatic gesture.”

Exhibition on Screen’s next project is Tokyo Stories (23 May) which focuses on the TOKYO exhibition held at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 2021.

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