Johannes Vermeer, the finest genre painter of the seventeenth century, was born in Delft in 1632 and died in Delft in 1675. He was the son of a silk weaver and tavern owner who sold art, prints and posters as well as beer, a combination of wares not unusual for Holland. So very little is known about Vermeer that it is only presumed that he was at one time an apprentice to Carel Fabritius, Rembrandt’s pupil.
Vermeer married in 1653, had eight children, kept the tavern that he had inherited from his father, and painted art, prints and posters in his spare time. He attracted very little, if any, attention during his lifetime, and it was not until 1860 that a Parisian art critic published a monograph on Vermeer and brought him to public notice and belated recognition. Thirty-three canvases have now been positively identified as Vermeer’s work and it is upon these that his fame rests.
Vermeer’s cool, perfectly balanced art, prints and posters present a world so calm as to be almost breathless. Most of his works present one female figure quietly occupied at some womanly task: making lace, reading, pouring milk, or playing a lute. Occasionally two figures appear in this intimate world, and their relationship seems without speech as if the entire world were under a spell of silence. Vermeer’s composition seems extremely simple, but is in fact carefully and intricately laid out. In each work, a careful analysis will show a series of interlocking rectangles filling up the entire surface with volumes rounded by silvery light coming from the side. The world is turned into a geometric pattern by Vermeer, inhabited by people who seem like objects in a still life. He employed a soft palette, with blues, golds, and soft reds predominating.