BIOGRAPHY JOHANNES VERMEER – Dutch painter, Vermeer of Delft is one of the great masters of the Golden Age. Mainly known for his genre painting, he is the author of masterpieces such as “The Milkmaid” and “The Girl with a Pearl Earring”.
Short biography of Johannes Vermeer – Great Dutch Baroque painter, Johannes or Jan Van der Meer, said Vermeer of Delft was born on October 31, 1632 in Delft in the Netherlands. Coming from a family of traders, he began his artistic apprenticeship at the end of the 1640s. But in 1652, the death of his father, from whom he inherited heavy debts, complicated his financial situation. In 1653, he married Catharina Bolnes, a young woman of the Catholic faith with whom he had fifteen children in all. Although he was brought up according to Calvinist principles, Vermeer converted to Catholicism. The same year, he was admitted as a master by the Guild of Saint-Luc in Delft and began to freely practice his art on his own, while pursuing an activity of art dealers. During his life, Johannes Vermeer produced only 37 paintings. Mainly known for its genre scenes, the painter likes to represent interiors and intimate scenes representative of everyday life. Among Vermeer’s most famous works is the portrait of The Girl with a Pearl Earring (subject of a novel by Tracy Chevalier and adapted for cinema) and The milk girl (face of a yoghurt brand). Nicknamed, the “Sphinx of Delft”, Vermeer will paint all his life in this same city, where he died on December 15, 1675. It was a serious depression due to his big financial problems which would have led to his early death at the age of 43 years. Little valued during his lifetime, his paintings are however sold today at inestimable prices. It was not until the review of his monograph by Théophile Thoré-Bürger in 1866, for the painter to be recognized for his work and elevated to the rank of masters of the Dutch Golden Age alongside Rembrandt and Frans Hals.
Vermeer’s conversion to Catholicism in 1653 played an important role in his artistic beginnings. Inspired by religious subjects, the painter produced his first paintings: Christ in the house of Martha and Mary (1654-56) and Saint Praxède (1655). But quickly, Vermeer found other inspirations. In 1656, he painted his first genre scene (a painting style focused on the representation of scenes from everyday life). Radically different from his previous works, his canvas entitled The Intermitter, represents a scene of prostitution as well as an alleged self-portrait of the artist himself. Then, Vermeer briefly tried his hand at landscape painting. Very attached to his hometown, he represents it in his two unique exterior paintings: The small street (1658) and above all View of Delft, 1660–1661, a painting made famous by the writer Marcel Proust who considered it “the most beautiful painting in the world”.
The following years, Johannes Vermeer devoted himself solely to genre scenes. He then delivers his most famous works like The reading light at the window (1657-59), The milk girl (1660), or even The lacemaker (1669-70). Although he mainly paints young women engaged in domestic chores, he also sometimes represents scientists at work as in his two paintings. The Astronomer (1668) and The Geographer (1668-69). At the same time, Vermeer from Delft produced portraits of women, notably The Girl with a Pearl Earring made in 1665. Famous for the enigmatic atmosphere she clears the canvas is like the work of Vermeer: mysterious and poetic.
Around 1658, Johannes Vermeer from Delft produced The milk girl, one of his most famous paintings. Characteristic of the genre scene, the work represents a servant focused on performing one of her daily activities : pour milk into a dish. Although it has an apparent simplicity, Vermeer’s painting is based on a skilful play of light and colors which gives it an intimate atmosphere. The character of the milkmaid who seems absorbed in her domestic task suggests a strong sense of peace and quiet. By bringing his poetic look at the reality of everyday life, Vermeer gave his character a universal scope. Represented as a true model of virtue with a simple and peaceful way of life, The milk girl de Vermeer had an incredible destiny. Used as advertising emblem by a yoghurt brand since 1973, it now represents in the collective imagination a nurturing and reassuring figure, a pledge of generosity and authenticity.
It was during the year 1665 that Vermeer of Delft completed his best-known portrait. Entitled The Girl with a Pearl Earring, the latter represents the bust of an anonymous young woman decked out in a turban and a pearl in her ear. Nicknamed the “Mona Lisa of the North”, because of its enigmatic character, The Girl with a Pearl Earring is characterized by its unique pose and expression. Highlighted by a dark and plain background, it sports a seductive face. Shoulders turned and lips parted, his gaze seems to be fixing the viewer in a disconcerting way. Like the mysterious work of Leonardo da Vinci, the identity of the young girl depicted in Johannes Vermeer’s painting has been the subject of much speculation. While some specialists suggest the hypothesis of Maria vermeer, daughter of the artist, others lean towards the idea of a servant officiating in the painter’s house. It is this assumption that was popularized by author Tracy Chevalier in her novel The Girl with a Pearl Earring. Published in 1999, the work was itself adapted for cinema in 2003, with actress Scarlett Johansson in the eponymous role.
Johannes Vermeer: key dates
- October 31, 1632: Birth of the Dutch Baroque painter Johannes Vermeer
- Johannes Vermeer was born in Delft, Holland on October 31, 1632. He is one of the most famous Dutch painters of the Baroque era. Specializing in genre painting, his work includes some 45 paintings depicting scenes from domestic life and religious subjects, of which only 35 are attributed to him with certainty. We owe him in particular the famous paintings of “The Milkmaid”, “The Astronomer” and “The Young Girl with a Pearl Earring”. Vermeer is renowned for his art of perspective, his inimitable colors and his treatment of light, which often enters intimate interiors through a window to the left of the subject.
- December 15, 1675: Death of Johannes Vermeer
- The painter Johannes Vermeer died on December 15, 1675 in Delft. Contemporary of Rembrandt, he is one of the most famous artists of the 17th century. His works, in the Baroque style, mainly represent scenes from ordinary life. Her best-known works are “La Dentellière” (around 1670), “La Laitière” (around 1660) or even “The Young Girl with a Pearl Earring” (around 1665).