What was the first Vermeer you ever saw? It's one of those questions like 'where were you when the Armstrong first stepped on the moon?' The first Vermeer I ever saw was 'The Milkmaid' in the Rikjsmuseum in Amsterdam. They have four Vermeers there, though it was a long time ago and I don't recall seeing the others. The Rikjsmuseum summarises Vermeer's life and work:
Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)
Today Johannes Vermeer is one of the most celebrated Dutch 17th century masters. Yet for centuries little importance was attached to his name. Works now known as Vermeers were attributed to other artists. It was only in the 1870s that he was rediscovered and 35 paintings identified as his. The son of a silk worker who bought and sold art, Vermeer lived and worked in Delft all his life. He may have served his apprenticeship under fellow townsman Carel Fabritius. In 1653, he joined the local artists guild, which he led at various times. Vermeer’s early paintings of historical scenes reveal the influence of the Utrecht Caravaggists. His later paintings are meticulous compositions of interiors featuring one or two figures, usually women. These are intimate genre paintings in which the subject is engaged in some everyday activity, usually in the light of a nearby window. Vermeer could render the way light plays on objects like few others. The Rijksmuseum has three domestic interiors by Vermeer and one outdoor scene: his world-famous Little Street.
|'The Milkmaid' - Vermeer (1657-58) (source)|
|'The Girl with the Pearl Earring' - Vermeer (1665) (source)|
Over the years I've enjoyed this small thrill in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (apparently they have five, though I saw three on display: 'Young Woman with a Water Pitcher', 'Woman with a Lute', and 'Study of a Young Woman'); the Frick Museum in New York (three lovely ones - 'Officer and Laughing Girl', 'Girl Interrupted at Music', and one of my favourites, 'Mistress and Maid'); the Louvre in Paris (two, including the 'Astronomer' and the lovely 'Lacemaker' - said to be the second most popular painting in the Lourve, after, of course, Leonardo's 'Mona Lisa'); the Staedelmuseum in Frankfurt (one - the wonderful 'Geographer'); and the Dresden Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister - the Dresden Old Masters Picture Gallery, (two, 'Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window' and 'The Procuress'); and the Steetliche Museen in Berlin ('The Glass of Wine' and 'Girl with a Pearl Necklace').
The Queen also has one which often hangs in Buckingham Palace, which can see if you take the summer tour, or if it is hung temporarily in an outside exhibition.
|'The Geographer' - Vermeer (1669) (source)|
|'Girl with a Red Hat' - Vermeer (source)|
|'Guitar Player' at home in Kenwood House, UK|
(currently under renovation) (source)
|'The Music Lesson' - Vermeer (source)|
National Gallery Exhibition website
Guardian review: Vermeer: The Art of Love and Leisure
If you have been bitten by the Vermeer bug, you'll find the website Essential Vermeer very helpful in listing all the known paintings and their locations. It includes a handy complete catalogue and an impressive amount of detail about the paintings, their provenance, whereabouts and exhibitions which feature them.
Some museum website provide excellent digital reproductions with useful zoom-in features; but nothing beats seeing the paintings in reality and well-displayed. The pics on this post do not do them justice. Get out there and find the real thing!
There is one Vermeer, however, that you might find it difficult to view: 'The Concert' was stolen from the Isabella Gardner Museum, Boston in 1990 and - so far - has not been recovered. It is thought to be the most valuable unrecovered stolen painting, with a value estimated at 200 million dollars. Trying to fence it has possibly proven difficult, though it could be hanging on some private Vermeer-lover's wall right now. Let me know if you find it.
Happy Vermeer hunting.
|Detail from 'The Milkmaid'|