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Louvre: Jan Van der Meer (Vermeer) – The Lacemaker

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Jan Van der Meer (Vermeer) - The LacemakerRichelieu wing – 2nd floor – Holland, second half of the 17th century – Room 38

On a lacemaker’s craft, a young woman is leaning, attentive, and running in her agile fingers spindles and silk threads. His blonde head, crowned with well-combed hair and rolled in braids to the nape of the neck, is of robust northern beauty. The features are regular, strongly sharped, somewhat vulgar, and betray the plebeian origin of the model. On the table, beside the diligent worker, is a blue cushion and a large book, of which she reads some passages at intervals of repose.

This picture, scarcely larger than the plate reproduced here, falls into the category of genre paintings in which the Dutch artists of the seventeenth century excelled, the so-called “little masters”.

Van der Meer was one of the best, perhaps the best, of these little masters, and yet, through a strange injustice of Destiny, we see his work and his personality fall into oblivion for two centuries. Twenty years after his death no one knows anything about him in his own country. Its very name is distorted. De Vermeer, who was his real name, made Van der Meer, which made it possible to confuse him with the Jan van der Meer dynasty of Haarlem, and with the Jan van der Meer of Utrecht. His paintings have been attributed successively to Peter de Hoogh, Metsu, and others. No other painter has known this complete disgrace in which everything dark, work and name.

Vermeer was worthy of another fate because he was truly a great painter. He possessed a very rich invention, a superior harmony in the arrangement of colors, a perfect gradation in tints, an energetic, broad, solid touch, and very fine impasto. His scenes of domestic life are remarkable for the picturesque composition, and above all for the beauty of its light effects, of which the face of The Lacemaker gives us an eloquent example. The dominant color in most of his paintings consists of a bluish tonality, extremely soft, still refined by the lightness of his smears.

During his lifetime, Vermeer was one of the best painters in Delft. It was still very young that Dirk van Bleyswijck, historiographer of the city, was already praising him. The brand foreigners were taken to his workshop. At the age of fifteen he entered the studio of a Delft painter, probably Leonardo Bramer. Six years later, he became a painter in the guild of Saint-Luc. But he is poor and does not have the six florins required for entry into the corporation: he can only pay one florin ten sols and pay the rest by installments. But his merit was soon imposed, he rapidly gained the esteem of his compatriots and colleagues, and he was several times dean of the Delft guild.

Vermeer was never rich, and when he died, at the age of forty-two, he left his wife and his eight living children nothing but ghastly debts. He owed 600 florins to his baker. Her widow gave two pictures to pay for them, and as she had a profound admiration for her husband’s talent, she stipulated that she might redeem them in annual installments of fifty florins.

After an eclipse of two centuries, the name of Vermeer began to shine, like those stars that have been lost and suddenly reappear in the firmament. In 1809, an expert called him “very great painter in the way of Metsu”. Reynolds mentions his Woman pouring milk among the paintings that most struck him during his trip to Holland. Later Maximus of the Camp, Theophile Gautier, Paul Mantz, and Clement de Ris contributed to make it known, but it is from Burger-Thoré that the honor of his complete rehabilitation comes.

There was some concern about which school Vermeer had acquired the first notions of his art. Some commentators have insinuated that perhaps he had worked in the Rembrandt workshop. This seems rather unlikely, for besides Vermeer being too poor to go to Amsterdam where Rembrandt lived, nothing in Vermeer’s amiable and measured manner recalls the powerful and grandiose manner of the great Dutch master. M. Henry Havard, in the learned study he has devoted to Vermeer, demonstrates it in a luminous and peremptory manner. It is no more certain that he was the pupil of Fabritius, who was about his age, which seems to exclude the idea that one of them was the master of the other. We would more willingly be inclined to the opinion of M. Henri Havard who inclines to believe that Vermeer studied with Leonard Bramer, friend and ally of his family.

The Lacemaker had appeared in a sale made in 1816 at Amsterdam, where it was awarded 28 florins. Since it had been sold 84 francs for the sale of Muilman (1813), 501 francs for the sale Laperière (1817), 265 florins for sale Nagel (1851). Lastly, it belonged to Mr. Blokhuysen of Rotterdam. It was acquired in 1870 for 1,200 francs by the State. She is currently in the Jan Steen Hall.

Height: 0.24 – Width: 0.21 – Half-length figure.

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