Vermeer’s gift was in working amid progeny

11/01/2011

The Europeana Blog has a short bit on Jan Vermeer, the Dutch artist best known for his work Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Vermeer was known for working slowly and with great care, use of bright colors and sometimes expensive pigments, with a preference for cornflower blue and yellow. He is renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.

Despite spectacular ability, Vermeer created a relatively small number of works; today, fewer than three dozen paintings are attributed to him today.

With such talent, one wonders why Vermeer didn’t turn out more paintings. The Europeana Blog speculates that it could possibly be from a lack of time: He was the head of an artists’ guild, an art deal and innkeeper, and father of 10 children.

Indeed, the latter fact alone would likely have impeded his ability to get much work done unless he had a private studio some distance from his home.

Today, on the rare occasion Vermeer’s works come up for sale, they go for immense sums; when Young Woman Seated at a Virginal sold at auction in 2004 it fetched $30 million.

But during his Vermeer’s lifetime, his fame did not spread much beyond his hometown of Delft.

While Vermeer, who died in 1675, was highly regarded by his peers, the small number of works he produced during his lifetime and the fact most ended up in the hands of a few select col­lec­tors prevented his fame from spreading.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that Vermeer was rediscovered, when Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Théophile Thoré-Bürger published an essay attributing 66 pictures to him, although only 34 paintings are universally attributed to him today.

Since that time Vermeer’s reputation has grown, and he is now acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.

(Above: View of Delft, by Jan Vermeer, 1660-61, Mauritshuis, The Hague.)

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