Officer and Laughing Girl Officer and Laughing Girl (ca. 1657) by Johannes VermeerThe Frick Collection
Officer and Laughing Girl, ca. 1657, records the intimate encounter between a dashing soldier and a fashionable young woman.
The crimson jacket, black sash...
... and brimmed beaver hat identify the man as an officer. Since beavers were extinct at this time in Europe, the pelt used to make this hat probably came from Canada or Siberia.
The black sash, called a bandolier, holds his ammunition.
His silhouetted facial features are barely discernible...
... but his posture emits an air of confidence.
A gentle and pervasive radiance, streams through an open window…
and illuminates the young woman’s amiable face.
It reflects off her loosely clasped wine glass, glistens against her silken yellow bodice, and makes the gilded finial on her chair sparkle.
The artist evokes various plays of light by manipulating the thickness of his paint: shadows are thinly painted passages, and highlights are formed by thick dabs of pigment.
Although Vermeer may have used a camera obscura, this painting follows the laws of linear perspective; the window’s vanishing point is mid-way between the solder’s and girl’s eyes.
Vermeer suggests spatial recession by placing the officer’s dark figure in the left foreground and making him significantly larger than the woman.
On the wall above the woman’s head hangs a 1621 map of Holland and West Friesland. It is based on an actual map designed by Balthasar Florisz. van Berckenrode in 1620.
Perhaps alluding to the soldier’s duty to protect his homeland or his territorial aspirations, the map’s placement above the woman may also liken her to an object of conquest.
The painting once bore a forged signature of Pieter de Hoogh, an artist whose interior genre pictures are often similar in appearance to those of Vermeer. De Hoogh was a contemporary of Vermeer’s and worked in Delft for a time making it likely that the two artists knew each other.
Henry Clay Frick purchased this work in 1911.
This exhibition is part of the Google Vermeer Project.