Not so fontastic

Another birthday gone. It is, as the t-shirt has it, weird being the same age as old people.

As a present for myself, I sent off weeks ago for the catalogue for the Rijksmuseum Vermeer exhibition, but only opened it on the day. And I’m very glad that I hadn’t instead dropped heavy hints to Mrs Logic Matters that I would really like a copy, because it would have been difficult to hide my initial disappointment.

Many catalogues of major exhibitions are wondrous art-objects in their own right. But this one so strangely isn’t.

Some complaining Amazon reviewers have put this down to the use of a matt paper, but actually I think that’s a mistake. Putting pages side by side with the reproductions in other books on Vermeer we have then — when not placed so as to catch reflections — you can in many cases hardly tell the matt and the slightly glossy pages apart. True, independently of the matt/gloss finish, in a number of cases the colours in this volume seem slightly dulled. But maybe these reproductions are in some sense truer to the paint surface; we have just become so used to seeing paintings rather artificially glowing in modern gallery lighting.

No, I don’t think it is principally the exact level of colour reproduction which makes this catalogue unsatisfactory as a visual object. Rather, there is a very odd choice of a dark, modern, sans serif font. So instead of the extensive blocks of text receding with quiet grace, as in the lovely catalogue for the Fitzwilliam’s Vermeer’s Women a few years ago, we get page after page visually shouting (and with the print overwhelming the inset — and oddly small — supplementary illustrations). If this was a catalogue for an exhibition by Kandinksy, say, it might have worked excellently. But for Vermeer of all artists? It simply looks off-puttingly uncomfortable.

As for the texts themselves — mostly essays on different groups of paintings, written by many hands — some are a bit banal, but mostly they are engaging and illuminating. Which makes it all the more a pity that the mode of typographical presentation is, to my eyes, so very misjudged. I’ve got a bit more used to the look of the book: but it’s not fontastic!

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