Paintings of Vermeer in Great Collections

The paintings of the Dutch Artist Johannes, or Jan, Vermeer (1632–1675) are among the most reproduced and well-loved works of art in the world. In this Expedition, we’ll examine a dozen or so Vermeers in some of the world’s great museums.

The Frick Collection, Rijksmuseum, Kenwood House, Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Mauritshuis

View of Delft (c. 1660 - 1661) by Vermeer, JohannesMauritshuis

Created over 300 years ago, Vermeer’s paintings still draw viewers into their tranquil domestic worlds. The paintings’ precise sensual details and gorgeous treatment of light make them instantly recognizable as Vermeers. Surprisingly, only about 36 paintings survive.

Vermeer in the Frick Collection

The Frick Collection was founded by Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), the Pittsburgh coke and steel industrialist.

At his death, Mr. Frick bequeathed his New York residence and the most outstanding of his many artworks to establish a public gallery for the purpose of "encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts."

 The Frick Collection now houses a permanent collection of more than 1,100 works of art from the Renaissance to the late nineteenth century.

Officer and Laughing Girl (c. 1657)

In Henry Frick's day, Rembrandt was the most highly regarded Dutch Old Master. Today, Vermeer holds that place. This small picture presents the familiar components of a classic Vermeer: a man and a woman observed sharing a moment alone in a comfortable interior flooded with golden light.

Girl Interrupted at Her Music (c. 1658–59)

Music-making, a recurring subject in Vermeer’s interior scenes, was associated in the 17th century with courtship. 

Girl Interrupted at Her Music (ca. 1658-59) by Johannes VermeerThe Frick Collection

In this painting of a duet or music lesson momentarily interrupted, the amorous theme is reinforced by the picture of Cupid with raised left arm dimly visible in the background.

Mistress and Maid (ca. 1666−67) by Johannes VermeerThe Frick Collection

Mistress and Maid (c. 1666–1668)

Mistress and Maid (not seen in the panorama) was purchased by Frick in 1919 and was among his favourite works. In 2008, the Frick presented its 3 Vermeers together on one wall. The painting is unfinished but is considered a standout among Vermeer’s works for its subtle and varied treatment of light.

Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum is a Dutch national museum dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam. It was founded in The Hague in 1800 and moved to Amsterdam in 1808. The current main building was designed by Pierre Cuypers and first opened in 1885.

The museum has on display 8,000 objects of art and history, from their total collection of 1 million objects from the years 1200–2000, among which are some masterpieces by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer.

The museum also has a small Asian collection, which is on display in the Asian pavilion.

The Little Street (c. 1658)

The Little Street, also known as View of Houses in Delft, this is the only known outdoor scene by Vermeer of this type: a quiet street with only a few figures. 

The Little Street (Around 1658) by Johannes VermeerRijksmuseum

The artist has captured the various materials meticulously: the bricks of the masonry, the gleam of the leaded windows, the plastered wall. 

The Love Letter (c. 1669)

A richly clad woman has momentarily ceased her music-making to read a letter that has just been handed to her by a servant girl.

The Love Letter (Around 1669) by Johannes VermeerRijksmuseum

The subject of the letter could be related to the seascape behind the two women. In the 17th century the sea was often compared to love, and the lover to a ship.

The Milkmaid (c. 1660)

The Milkmaid is one of Vermeer’s best-known paintings. In this work, he once again captures a scene of everyday life. 

The milkmaid (Around 1660) by Johannes VermeerRijksmuseum

However, The Milkmaid is different from similar works by Vermeer: instead of an elegant, affluent young lady at leisure, we see a sturdy maid at work.

Woman Reading a Letter (c. 1663)

In a quiet moment, a young woman stands, engrossed in reading a letter. It is morning, and she is still wearing her blue night robe. 

Woman Reading a Letter (c. 1663) by Johannes VermeerRijksmuseum

All the other colours are subordinate to its radiant lapis lazuli. Vermeer rendered the different effects of the cool light precisely. 

Dutch Masters at Kenwood House

Kenwood House is a former stately home on 74 acres of gardens and woodland in Hampstead, London. Built in the early 17th century, it served as a home for the aristocratic Murray and Guinness families in the 18th and early 19th centuries. 

Today, Kenwood houses the Iveagh Bequest, a collection of Old Master and British paintings brought together by Edward Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, who gave the house and the collection to the nation in 1927. 

The collection includes masterworks by van Dyck, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Reynolds, and, of course, Vermeer.

The Guitar Player, Johannes Vermeer (c. 1672)

A girl is seated holding a guitar. She wears a cream gown and a yellow coat trimmed with fur. Like almost all Vermeer’s paintings, The Guitar Player is apparently in a room in his house in Delft.

Portrait of the Artist (c. 1665), Rembrandt van Rijn

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) was a Dutch draughtsman, painter, and printmaker. This self-portrait was undertaken towards the end of his life. 

Portrait of the Artist (c.1665) by Rembrandt van RijnOriginal Source: KENWOOD

It is distinguished by the loose, experimental way he has used the medium of oil paint.

Pieter van den Broeke, Frans Hals (c. 1633)

Frans Hals the Elder (c. 1582–1666) was a Dutch portrait painter who lived and worked in Haarlem. He is notable for his loose brushwork, and he helped introduce this lively style of painting into Dutch art.

Pieter van den Broeke (1633) by Frans HalsOriginal Source: KENWOOD

His subject here, Pieter van den Broecke, was a wealthy cloth merchant and personal friend.

Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Located in Berlin, Germany, the Gemäldegalerie boasts one of the world’s most important collections of European painting ranging from the 13th to 18th century.

Masterpieces from all epochs in the history of art are on permanent display here, including paintings by Jan van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel, Albrecht Dürer, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, and Jan Vermeer van Delft.

The paintings in the collection have been on show in their present home at the Kulturforum since 1998.

Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace (c. 1662)

A young woman stands by a table and looks into a mirror to arrange her pearl necklace. Light floods into the room through the leaded window. 

Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace (around 1662) by Jan Vermeer van DelftGemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The yellow of the curtain and the fur-trimmed jacket, and the bare, white wall create an intense sense of colour that is enhanced by the dark foreground.

The Glass of Wine (c. 1661)

An elegantly dressed young man watches a woman finish a glass of wine. He has his hand on a jug and seems to be waiting to refill the glass. 

The Glass of Wine (around 1661) by Jan Vermeer van DelftGemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Vermeer doesn’t give any explicit indication of the nature of the couple's relationship, but the chitarrone on the chair symbolizes both harmony and frivolity.

Mauritshuis

Located in the Netherlands, the Mauritshuis is home to the best of Dutch painting from the Golden Age, which roughly spanned the 17th century. The compact, yet world-renowned collection, is situated in the heart of The Hague, right next to the government centre. 

Masterpieces such as Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt, The Goldfinch by Fabritius and The Bull by Potter are on permanent display in the museum’s intimate rooms.

Girl with a Pearl Earring (c. 1665)

Girl with a Pearl Earring is Vermeer’s most famous painting. It is not a portrait, but a ‘tronie’ – a painting of an imaginary figure. 

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

Tronies depict a certain type or character; in this case a girl in exotic dress, wearing an oriental turban and an improbably large pearl in her ear.

Woman Writing a Letter (c. 1655)

Gerard Ter Borch made paintings of people absorbed in what they are doing. This woman writing a letter is the first of a whole series and was an example for other artists, like Vermeer. 

Woman Writing a Letter (c. 1655) by Borch, Gerard terMauritshuis

The action in the scene is minimal – we can imagine for ourselves what the woman is thinking and writing.

Mother Combing Her Child's Hair (c. 1652–1670)

In this painting by Gerard Ter Borch, a mother is carefully combing her child’s hair in search of lice. The boy is undergoing the inspection stoically. 

Mother Combing Her Child's Hair, known as 'Hunting for Lice' (c. 1652 - 1670) by Borch, Gerard terMauritshuis

The painting probably contains a moral, as maternal care, orderliness and cleanliness were the ideal qualities of a good housewife. 

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