Sarah Woodall

My marginalia and some of the things that I do

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Greatest art experience ever

This happened 12 years ago but it’s still vivid in my mind. I hope it always will be.

It was the year Andrew and I got engaged (we were married in 1997). We got tickets for the great Vermeer show in the Mauritshuis at The Hague. We were not the only ones looking forward to it as the best art show of the decade.

When we got there, clutching our timed tickets (for 6pm, if memory serves—purchased from the Dutch consulate in London) the museum was closing and the last visitors were being ushered out. We argued. An official was fetched. Our tickets were examined. An executive decision was taken.

For the next hour, accompanied by a bored security guard, we had exclusive access to the Vermeers. We wandered, we peered, we savoured. We ran from one to another exclaiming and comparing. Look! He’s used the same props in this one. And again—the yellow dress—look!

They aren’t very big, Vermeers. They are exquisite. They had never all been together in the same place before, and probably they never will be again. The next day, back among the crowds for a second look, joining the scrum around every painting, we realised the full value of the luck we’d had. It was amazing.

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