The Painting‘s Provenance and Fate

Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Provenance research investigates an artwork‘s whereabouts before its current, known location. In this online exhibition, we are going to take a look at the history of Jan Vermeer’s Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace before it entered the Gemäldegalerie’s collection. We will also learn about at its subsequent fate during World War II and its aftermath.

Jan Vermeer‘s Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace
Vermeer lived and worked in Delft, where he must have painted Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace in the years between 1662 and 1665. It is assumed that the local art collector Pieter Claesz van Ruijven was the first owner of the painting. It was probably passed on in his family and at the end of the century, it belonged to the Delft local Jacob Abrahmsz Dissius who had married van Ruijven’s daughter and who owned no less than 21 paintings by Vermeer.

Dissius‘ collection was sold in an auction in May 1696. The auction catalogue represents the first written evidence of the Berlin painting. However, it remains unknown whom the painting was sold to. In fact, the painting’s whereabouts throughout the entire 18th century remain unknown.

In the top center, you can see a label that reads: “Momper. Rentoileur des Musées Impériaux”. Momper was active in Paris and specialized in the doubling of canvases. This means that he attached a second canvas to the back of Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace in order to provide greater support for the fragile artwork. Momper’s label forms a link to Meffre: Momper and Meffre collaborated with the same art collectors and it is thus likely that not only they knew each other, but also that Meffre commissioned Momper with the doubling of his painting.

In the years following, the painting remained in Paris, but changed its owner several times.

Around 1864, the connoisseur Thoré-Bürger took a sketch after Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace. Below the drawing, he noted down that the painting belonged to „Henry Grevedon 101 r. Saint Lazare“. Another source reports that Grevedon had acquired the painting for 1.500 Francs.

Just two years later, in 1866, Thoré-Bürger actually acquired Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace for 4.000 Francs. He was largely responsible for the rediscovery of Vermeer’s work in the 19th century and published a catalogue of all the paintings by Jan Vermeer that he had been able to identify. Thoré-Bürger attached another label to the back of Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace that states the title and the artist and refers to his catalogue.

In 1873, Barthold Suermondt’s business encountered large financial problems. In 1874, circumstances forced Suermondt to sell his prestigious art collection in order to make money. A substantial part of his collection including Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace was acquired for the painting collection of the Royal Museums of Berlin, the predecessor of today’s Gemäldegalerie. Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace was on display in the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, the building of today’s Bode-Museum.

After a rather calm couple of decades, World War II and its aftermath turned Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace into a homeless wanderer again.

In spring 1945, during the last days of World War II, Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace and other paintings from the Berlin Museums were evacuated from Berlin to a salt mine to hide them and to protect them from bombings. Here, the precious collection was discovered by American troops who brought the artworks to the Museum of Wiesbaden.

The Museum in Wiesbaden became the “Central Collecting Point” for artworks that had been dispersed in the course of the war. Walter I. Farmer was responsible for this big logistic effort.

In fall 1945, US officials decided to transport 202 of the Wiesbaden artworks – among them Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace – to Washington for “safekeeping”. Despite Farmer’s and other military officials’ protest, the transport started in November.

The 202 paintings from the Berlin Museum’s collection remained in the National Gallery’s storage for three years. Finally, in 1948, the collection was exhibited in the National Gallery Washington.

With almost 1 million visitors in just four weeks, the exhibition was a tremendous success.

Due to the public’s great interest, it was decided to have the exhibition tour through the United States.
In one year, the paintings and among them Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace travelled to 14 cities across the USA as the following video shows.

In April 1949, Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace embarked on its journey across the Atlantic and back to Wiesbaden. Later, the artworks that had formerly belonged to the Berlin Museum left the Central Collection Point Wiesbaden and finally returned to Berlin. However, at that time, the city and in consequence its museums were already divided. Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace and the other paintings that returned from Wiesbaden entered the painting collection in West Berlin.

A last move took place in 1998: almost a decade after the fall of the Berlin wall, the art collections of East and West Berlin were reunited in the Gemäldegalerie’s current building close to Potsdamer Platz.

In recent years, things have calmed down quite a bit for Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace. Very rarely, the painting still leaves the Gemäldegalerie, but luckily not because of war and destruction. Only on very special occasions it is lent to other museums for exhibitions where it keeps fascinating audiences from all over the world.

Credits: Story

This exhibition is part of the Google Vermeer Project.

Concept / Text: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz / Dr. Katja Kleinert & Svea Janzen

Editing / Realisation: Malith C. Krishnaratne

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.