Aug 11, 2010

The Girl with the Pearl Earring

A few years ago I read “The Girl With the Pearl Earring” I happened to find it in a book store in an airport on my way to Amsterdam. I found it wonderfully intriguing, I love to read about the great masters and this was a great story. Tracy Chevalier wrote this novel in 1999, it was a fictionalization of the circumstances of the painting's creation. In the novel, Johannes Vermeer becomes close with a fictional servant named Griet, whom he hires as an assistant she learns to grind his pigments and clean his studio and sits for him as a painting model while wearing one of his wife's pearl earrings

My trip to Amsterdam was to visit the great Museums of the great Dutch artists. As we walked through the large rooms looking at all the masterpieces we came to a small room that had some of Vermeer’s work hanging and to my surprise I came face to face with the original painting of the Girl with the Pearl Earring. What a delight to see in person. There are really no words that can express what I felt seeing the Dutch masters art right there at arms length. I have always loved the dutch artists the most, the way they handled the light was incredible to me.

Researching Vermeer I found that very little was actually known about him. Vermeer was born in Delft and stayed there all his life. He was buried in the Old Church (Oude Kerk) in Delft.(1632 - December 15, 1675)

After Rembrandt Vermeer is the second most famous Dutch painter of the 17th century.

This time was known as the Dutch Golden Age. This was due to its amazing cultural and artistic achievements. He had a great knowledge of how to use transparent colors and luminous use of light.

In 1653 he joined the Sint Lucas painters guild and married Catharina Bolenes. He presided over the guild. Vermeer earned a meager income as an art dealer instead of selling his art.
He often paid his depts with local food stores with paintings. He died very poor as a result his widow had to trade all his paintings she had to the city council in return for a small allowance.
Sadly Vermeer was soon forgotten after the died. To bring up the value of his paintings they were often sold with the name of another painter to raise their value.
Very few paintings of Vermeer are known today. Only 35 to 40 works that are attributed to him do exist (views on authencity of some works differ).

He painted the Girl with the Pearl Earring around circa 1665, on a 17 x15 canvas. This painting is signed "IVMeer".

One wonders if this was a commissioned work and if so who commissioned it and who was the girl. In 1994 the painting was restored and the subtle color process and the intimacy of the girl’s gaze on to the spectator have been greatly improved.

In 1881 A.A. des Tombe purchased the work at an auction in The Hague for only two guilders and thirty cents. At the time of the purchase it was in poor condition. In 1902 it was donated to the Mauristshuis when Des Tombe passed away as he had no heirs.

The Girl with a Pearl Earring is unanimously recognized as one of Johannes Vermeer's masterworks.

After all of this time there are still questions that cannot be answered, who was the person who this was intended for and who was the sitter? It was rediscovered in 1882 after being in complete obscurity until then. When it was discovered it was sold for a price of a reproduction! Which painting procedures did Vermeer employ?
Why the turban, did it have a significance? Was the pearl real? The background was originally green so why is it black we see today?

Which pigments did he use? The seventeenth century Dutch painters had only a few pigments compared to what we have today. The known pigments that Vermeer used were; azurite
carmine,charcoal black. Green earth, indigo, lead-tin yellow, madder lake, smalt, Ivory black, green earth, red ocher, lead white, weld, yellow ochre, vermillion, umber and verdigris.
Vermeer painted tear shaped pearls in eight other paintings.Here they are:
Woman with a Pearl Necklace, Woman with a Lute, Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid, The Concert, A Lady Writing, Girl with a Red Hat, A Study of a Young Woman, Mistress and Her Maid. These all date from the mid 1660’s.

Vermeer seemed to have a special passion for pearls, his work itself has become tantamount with the pearl. Pearls were a enormously important status symbol in the seventeenth Century. The most outstanding and beautiful pearl Vermeer ever painted was in “The Girl with the Pearl Earring”. It was luminous looking, and I think Vermeer wanted the viewer to look at the pearl, it was his focal point for sure!
Other paintings of Vermeers that feature pearls.

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