On the left-hand wall, there is a brooding café scene, a work of stark and unapologetic intensity, a man staring at the viewer over his drink on a Paris street. This is Manet’s Chez Tortoni.
On the right-hand wall is a much more vigorous picture: the crew of a sailing vessel desperately trying to combat fierce winds, dark skies, and towering waves. Light and dark seem to vie for mastery of the painting, and the focal point is the viewer. This is Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee.
On the center wall, directly in front of the sitting viewer, is a third canvas, more luminous than the other two. A wide-shouldered man sits playing a zither, while a woman on one side of him plays the harpsichord and a woman on the other side sings. This is Vermeer’s The Concert.
Perhaps the viewer of these paintings comes down here at the beginning of his day, to sit in silent wonder for a few moments before confronting the world. Perhaps he comes to see them when his day is done, to salve whatever disappointments he might be feeling by gazing with proprietary calm at these masterpieces that are his alone to see.