Johannes Vermeer: The most famous artist you’ve never heard of

Editorial Feature

By Google Arts & Culture

Girl with a Pearl Earring (c. 1665 (digitized by Madpixel)) by Johannes VermeerMauritshuis

Discover all 36 of the mysterious artist’s paintings in the same place for the first time

In 2017, a study by art buying platform Meural found that 82% of Americans were unable to name the artist behind Girl with a Pearl Earring, despite being very familiar with the artwork. The work was in fact painted by Johannes Vermeer and this persona of him being the most famous artist you’ve never heard of is perpetuated by multiple surveys like this that demonstrate his mass appeal but also highlight how elusive the painter himself has remained.

Vermeer painted the people and scenery of Holland during the Dutch Golden Age, a period in the Netherlands that saw trade, science, military, and art as among the most acclaimed in the world. But after his death in 1675, his work, which was bought only by one or two collectors, fell into oblivion where it remained for over a century. Fortunately, Théophile Thoré-Bürger, who rediscovered the artist’s work in 1842, set about reinstating Vermeer’s legacy alongside the other Dutch Golden Age painters who’ve become household names.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer (From the collection of Mauritshuis)

While Girl with a Pearl Earring is Vermeer’s most famous work, The Milkmaid, View of Delft, and The Procures are just a handful of his other paintings that have become a defining part of his oeuvre and demonstrate his ability to capture the light in a way that few artists had been able to achieve before. Many of Vermeer’s paintings remain lost so with only 36 paintings in existence, an air of rarity follows the artist. Perhaps the real proof of this isn’t just in the fact that collectors have placed enormous value on the remaining works but art thieves have also recognised it as well. Over the decades, for instance, several of Vermeer’s paintings have been stolen including The Guitar Player in 1974, The Love Letter in 1971 and most famously The Concert in 1990, which still remains missing – you can read more about Vermeer’s stolen paintings here .

Even today, Vermeer, and his peers at the time like Rembrandt, Hals, and Fabritius, are surrounded by intrigue and fascination in the way they saw and painted the world. So much so that these painters have built up a deluge of obsessive museumgoers who make it their mission to travel the world on an artistic pilgrimage to see their works. One of the most famous Vermeer fanatics is Dr Shin-Ichi Fukuoka. In 2015 he published Vermeer: Realm of Light, a unique travelogue that tells the story of his 4-year pilgrimage around the world, travelling to the galleries where Vermeer’s works are permanently held in the hope to discover the mysteries behind the Master of Light.

The milkmaid (Around 1660) by Johannes VermeerRijksmuseum

The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer (From the collection of Rijksmuseum)

Here Google Arts & Culture allows viewers to embark on their own pilgrimage, through a retrospective look at the artist. For the first time all 36 paintings known to exist today have been reunited, thanks to a collaboration with 18 top cultural institutions, across 7 countries.

Google Arts & Culture is also launching a new AR feature, which will allow viewers to explore this digital exhibition of Vermeer’s paintings in 360° wherever they are in the world. In addition to this, you can get an up close and explore the details hidden within Vermeer’s artworks thanks to ultra high resolution photographs of his works and learn more about him through stories about his life, painting style, and legacy.

To kick start your discovery of Vermeer, you can see all of the artist’s 36 paintings here or delve straight into the story of his life here.

The Procuress (1656) by Johannes VermeerOld Masters Picture Gallery, Dresden State Art Museums

The Procuress by Johannes Vermeer (From the collection of Old Masters Picture Gallery, Dresden State Art Museums)

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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.
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Vermeer’s complete works united: 36 paintings from 18 museums across 7 different countries
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