Art and architecture critic

Johannes Vermeer. “Woman Holding a Balance,” c. 1664. (National Gallery of Art, Widener Collection)

Vermeer. “The Astronomer,” 1668. (Musée du Louvre, Paris, Département des Peintures/National Gallery of Art, Washington)

The highlight of the National Gallery of Art’s fall season is an exhibition curated by its longtime curator of Dutch art, Arthur Wheelock, who has gathered 10 paintings by Vermeer (many not seen in this country in many years) as part of a show that puts Vermeer in the context of other genre painters from the Dutch Golden Age (Oct. 22). Some 65 works will be on view, including paintings by Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Gabriel Metsu, Frans van Mieris, Caspar Netscher and Jan Steen. A smaller exhibition, devoted to Jean-Honoré Fragonard, gathers the 14 sumptuous portraits known as his fantasy figures (Oct. 8). Using a newly discovered drawing, which references the paintings, the exhibition will address the long-standing question: Who are these people? Real or imaginary?

Mark Bradford takes as his starting place for “Pickett’s Charge” the 19th-century cyclorama painting by Paul Philippoteaux, on view for decades at the Gettysburg Battlefield (Nov. 8). Using the entire third ring of the Hirshhorn’s inner galleries, Bradford uses collage and other techniques to rework the original into eight 45-foot-long paintings. The subject matter, a turning point in the Civil War, is meant to raise ongoing questions about this country’s history, its civil strife, and its use of race as a political and social tool.


Rufino Tamayo, “The Family [La familia],” 1925, oil on canvas. (Tamayo Heirs/VAGA, NY. Photo by John R. Glembin/Milwaukee Art Museum/Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Other highlights of the fall season include the reopening of the Freer and Sackler Galleries after a major renovation, with a commissioned projection piece on the outside of the Freer by the Tony Award-winning artists, 59 Productions (Oct. 14); the reopening of the America’s Presidents Gallery at the National Portrait Gallery, this time with the famous Lansdowne Portrait of George Washington again on view after 18 months of conservation (Sept. 22); an exhibition at the Phillips Collection devoted to perhaps its favorite painting, Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” put into the context of Renoir’s circle of friends (Oct. 7); and important exhibitions of works by Kara Walker (Oct. 13) and Rufino Tamayo (Nov. 3) at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.