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Jan Vermeer

AKA Johannes van der Meer

Born: 31-Oct-1632 [1]
Birthplace: Delft, Netherlands
Died: 15-Dec-1675
Location of death: Delft, Netherlands
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Oude Kerke, Delft, Netherlands

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Painter

Nationality: Netherlands
Executive summary: 17th c. Dutch Master

Jan van der Meer, more often called Vermeer of Delft, was one of the excellent Dutch painters about whom the Dutch biographers give us little information. Van der Meer, or Vermeer, was born in Delft, and was a pupil of Carel Fabritius, whose junior he was by only eight years. The works by Fabritius are few, but his contemporaries speak of him as a man of remarkable power, and the paintings now ascertained to be from his hand, and formerly ascribed to Rembrandt, prove him to have been deeply imbued with the spirit and manner of that master. Whether Vermeer had ever any closer relation to Rembrandt than through companionship with Fabritius remains uncertain. In 1653 he married Catherine Bolenes, and in the same year he entered the guild of St. Luke of Delft, becoming one of the heads of the guild in 1662 and again in 1670. He died at Delft in 1675, leaving a widow and eight children. His circumstances cannot have been flourishing, for at his death he left twenty-six pictures undisposed of, and his widow had to apply to the court of insolvency to be placed under a curator, who was Anton van Leeuwenhoek, the scientist.

For more than two centuries Vermeer was almost completely forgotten, and his pictures were sold under the names and forged signatures of the more popular Pieter de Hooch, Metsu, Ter Borch, and even of Rembrandt. The attention of the art world was first recalled to this most original painter by Thoré, an exiled Frenchman, who described his then known works in Musées de la Hollande (1858-60),, published under the assumed name of W. Bürger. The result of his researches, continued in his Galerie Suermondt and Galerie d'Arenberg, was afterwards given by him in a charming, though incomplete, monograph (Gazette des beaux-arts, 1866). The task was prosecuted with success by Havard (Les Artistes hollandais), and by Obreen (Nederlandsche Kunstgeschiedenis), and we are now in a position to refer to Vermeer's works. His pictures are rarely dated, but one of the most important, in the Dresden Gallery, bears the date 1656, and thus gives us a key to his styles. With the exception of the "Christ with Martha and Mary" in the Coats collection at Glasgow, it is perhaps the only one, hitherto recognized, that has figures of life size, though his authorship is claimed for several others. The Dresden picture of a "Woman and Soldier", with other two figures, is painted with remarkable power and boldness, with great command over the resources of color, and with wonderful expression of life. For strength and color it more than holds its own beside the neighboring Rembrandts. To this early period of his career belong, from internal evidence, the "Reading Girl" of the same gallery, the luminous and masterly "View of Delft" in the museum of the Hague, the "Milk-Woman" and the small street view, both identified with the Six collection at Amsterdam, the former now in the Rijksmuseum; the magnificent "The Letter" also at Amsterdam, "Diana and the Nymphs" (formerly ascribed to Vermeer of Utrecht, a different painter altogether) at the Hague Gallery, and others. In all these we find the same brilliant style and vigorous work, a solid impasto, and a crisp, sparkling touch. His first manner seems to have been influenced by the pleiad of painters circling around Rembrandt, a school which lost favor in Holland in the last quarter of the century. During the final ten or twelve years of his life Vermeer adopted a second manner. We now find his painting smooth and thin, and his colors paler and softer. Instead of masculine vigor we have refined delicacy and subtlety, but in both styles beauty of tone and perfect harmony are conspicuous. Through all his work may be traced his love of lemon-yellow and of blue of all shades. Of his second style typical examples are to be seen in "The Coquette" of the Brunswick Gallery, in the "Woman Reading" in the Van der Hoop collection now at the Rijksmuseum at Amsterdam, in the "Lady at a Casement" formerly belonging to Lord Powerscourt (exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1878) and in the "Music Master and Pupil" belonging to the crown (exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1876).

Vermeer's authentic pictures in public and private collections amount to about thirty. There is but one in the Louvre, the "Lace Maker"; Dresden has the two aforementioned, while Berlin has three, all acquired in the Suermondt collection, and the Czernin Gallery of Vienna is fortunate in possessing a fine picture, believed to represent the artist in his studio. In the Arenberg Gallery at Brussels there is a remarkable head of a girl, half the size of life, which seems to be intermediate between his two styles. Several of his paintings are in private foreign collections. In all his work there is a singular completeness and charm. His tone is usually silvery with pearly shadows, and the lighting of his interiors is equal and natural. In all cases his figures seem to move in light and air, and in this respect he resembles greatly his fellow-worker De Hooch. It is curious to read that, at one of the auctions in Amsterdam about the middle of the 18th century, a De Hooch is praised as being "nearly equal to the famous Vermeer of Delft."


[1] Date of baptism. Actual date of birth is unknown.

Father: Reynier Jansz (weaver, d. Oct-1652)
Wife: Catharina Bolenes (m. Apr-1653, eleven children)

Is the subject of books:
Johannes Vermeer: Painter of Delft, 1632–1675, 1950, BY: P. T. A. Swillens
Vermeer of Delft: Complete Edition of the Paintings, 1978, BY: Albert Blankert
Vermeer: The Complete Works, 1997, BY: Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr.
Vermeer: A View of Delft, 2001, BY: Anthony Bailey



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