Vermeer, Jan

Jan or Johannes Vermeer van Delft, b. October 1632, d. December 1675, a Dutch genre painter who lived and worked in Delft, created some of the most exquisite paintings in Western art.

His works are rare. Of the 35 or 36 paintings generally attributed to him, most portray figures in interiors. All his works are admired for the sensitivity with which he rendered effects of light and color and for the poetic quality of his images.

Little is known for certain about Vermeer's career. His teacher may have been Leonaert Bramer, a Delft artist who was a witness at Vermeer's marriage in 1653. His earliest signed and dated painting, The Procuress (1656; Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden), is thematically related to a Dirck van Baburen painting that Vermeer owned and that appears in the background of two of his own paintings. Another possible influence was that of Hendrick Terbrugghen, whose style anticipated the light color tonalities of Vermeer's later works.

846 x 982 184.3K
184.3K, 846 x 982

The Procuress
Painted: 1656
Oil on canvas
143 x 130 cm
Staatliche Kunstsammlungen
Girl Asleep at a Table
Painted: 1657
Oil on canvas
87.6 x 76.5 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York

845 x 987 158.2K
158.2K, 845 x 987

850 x 1026 187.2K
187.2K, 850 x 1026

Street in Delft
Painted: 1657-58
Oil on canvas
54.3 x 44 cm
Soldier and a Laughing Girl
Painted: 1658
Oil on canvas
49.2 x 44.4 cm
The Frick Collection
New York

871 x 961 195.0K
195.0K, 871 x 961

872 x 960 155.3K
155.3K, 872 x 960

The Milkmaid
Painted: 1658-60
Oil on canvas
45.4 x 41 cm

During the late 1650s, Vermeer, along with his colleague Pieter de Hooch, began to place a new emphasis on depicting figures within carefully composed interior spaces. Other Dutch painters, including Gerard Ter Borch and Gabriel Metsu, painted similar scenes, but they were less concerned with the articulation of the space than with the description of the figures and their actions. In early paintings such as The Milkmaid (c.1658; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), Vermeer struck a delicate balance between the compositional and figural elements, and he achieved highly sensuous surface effects by applying paint thickly and modeling his forms with firm strokes. Later he turned to thinner combinations of glazes to obtain the subtler and more transparent surfaces displayed in paintings such as Woman with a Water Jug (c.1664/5; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City).

857 x 968 108.7K
108.7K, 857 x 968

Mistress and Maid
Painted: 1667-68
Oil on canvas
90.2 x 78.7 cm
Frick Collection
New York

The Art of Painting
Painted: 1666-73
Oil on canvas
130 x 110 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum

848 x 1009 136.2K
136.2K, 848 x 1009

826 x 1048 120.1K
120.1K, 826 x 1048

Girl with a Red Hat
Painted: 1666-1667
Oil on canvas
23.2 x 18.1 cm
National Gallery of Art

Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid
Painted: 1670-72
Oil on canvas
71.1 x 58.4 cm
National Gallery of Ireland

830 x 1008 88.2K
88.2K, 830 x 1008

848 x 977 163.6K
163.6K, 848 x 977

The Guitar Player
Painted: 1672
Oil on canvas
53 x 46.3 cm
English Heritage

View of Delft
Painted: 1660-61
Oil on canvas
98.5 x 117.5 cm
The Hague

1013 x 837 105.8K
105.8K, 1013 x 837

870 x 990 178.3K
178.3K, 870 x 990

The Music Lesson
Painted: 1662-65
Oil on canvas
74.6 x 64.1 cm
Royal Collection, St. James' Palace

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher
Painted: 1664-65
Oil on canvas
45.7 x 40.6 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York

861 x 974 124.9K
124.9K, 861 x 974

868 x 973 112.1K
112.1K, 868 x 973

Woman Weighing Pearls
(Woman Weighing Gold)
Painted: 1662-64
Oil on canvas
42.5 x 38 cm
National Gallery of Art
Washington, D.C.

The Concert
Painted: 1665-66
Oil on canvas
72.5 x 64.7 cm
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

868 x 977 111.5K
111.5K, 868 x 977

802 x 923 122.3K
122.3K, 802 x 923

Girl with a Pearl Earring
Painted: 1665-1666
Oil on canvas
44.5 x 39 cm
Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis
The Hague

A keen sensitivity to the effects of light and color and an interest in defining precise spatial relationships probably encouraged Vermeer to experiment with the camera obscura, an optical device that could project the image of sunlit objects placed before it with extraordinary realism. Although he may have sought to depict the camera's effects in his View of Delft (c.1660; Mauritshuis, The Hague), it is unlikely that Vermeer would have traced such an image, as some commentators have charged. Moralizing references occur in several of Vermeer's works, although they tend to be obscured by the paintings' vibrant realism and their general lack of narrative elements. In his Love Letter (c.1670; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), a late painting in which the spatial environment becomes more complex and the figures appear more doll-like than in his earlier works, he includes on the back wall a painting of a boat at sea. Because this image was based on a contemporary emblem warning of the perils of love, it was clearly intended to add significance to the figures in the room.

673 x 607 121.1K
121.1K, 673 x 607

View of Delft
Painted: 1660
99 x 118 cm
The Hague
The Love Letter
Painted: 1670
44 x 38 cm

639 x 737 156.8K
156.8K, 639 x 737

After his death Vermeer was overlooked by all but the most discriminating collectors and art historians for more than 200 years. Only after 1866, when the French critic W. Thore-Burger "rediscovered" him, did Vermeer's works become widely known.