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AMSTERDAM (AP) — The Amsterdam Rijksmuseum will unite two iconic paintings from Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer early next year — The Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Milkmaid.

In an unprecedented blockbuster exhibit starting in February, the most famous museum in the Netherlands will bring together 27 of the 35 known paintings of the 17th-century artist who had the uncanny genius of letting a soothing inner light exude from his canvas.

“His paintings radiate this simplicity, the stillness, his brilliant colors, said Taco Dibbits, the director general of the Rijksmuseum.

Nowhere is it more apparent than in the two paintings that have become as quintessential to Dutch art as any work of Vincent van Gogh or Rembrandt.

In Thursday’s announcement of the Feb. 10-June 4 exhibit, the musuem said it will be the first time in over a quarter-century that the paintings will be united in the same building, dating back to a 1996 show at The Hague’s Mauritshuis, home to the Girl with a Pearl Earring.

The Rijksmuseum did extensive work on The Milkmaid and discovered that the vast unadorned white wall behind her, was not always meant to be like that. With special technologies, a sketch under the final layer of paint was discovered which shows a more cluttered background with a jug holder and a fire basket.

Later, Vermeer thought better of it and went for the distinctive white background, auguring a big development in art.

“We now see a very neat little cube,” Dibbits said. “A search for simplicity is very difficult to arrive at,” Dibbits said, adding it is what ”we now still admire so much today.”

With his domestic scenes of pouring milk, people talking and an almost nonchalant portrait of his maid, Vermeer knows how to create a sense of serenity that especially offers a balm in today’s turbulent times over 350 years later.

Dibbits calls him one of the most famous painters in the world because of this “tranquility that his paintings radiate. On the one hand, you step into the 17th century,” he said, “On the other hand, because this depicts everyday life, they’re incredibly modern.”

New York’s Frick Collection will lend its three Vermeers which will be shown together outside of New York over a century after the museum acquired them.

It is also what makes the exhibit a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The paintings could leave New York only because the Frick is under renovation.

“And once renovation is finished, they will never be able to leave again.” Dibbits said.


Raf Casert reported from Brussels.