There are only 34 paintings attributed to Vermeer. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has 4 of them – more than 10% of the total. They’re displayed in the “Gallery of Honour”, just a few metres from Rembrandt’s works. My early start to my visit meant I was able to see the paintings without being obstructed by too many people, but there was already a cluster of people, such is Vermeer’s popularity. This wasn’t always the case – he was largely unknown until the 1860s when French art critic and left-wing politician Théophile Thoré-Bürger published a series of articles eulogizing the painter’s forgotten works.
Vermeer’s works are very different from Rembrandt’s. They are much smaller for a start – which makes it difficult to get a look in when the gallery is busy. His brushwork is fine and meticulous, unlike Rembrandt whose brushwork in his later paintings was much coarser. His paintings are full of light and bright colours (with extensive use of the expensive lapis lazuli ultramarine blue) unlike the works by many of his contemporaries which are often rather dark and gloomy. And Vermeer didn’t go in for grandiose historical and biblical subjects, he concentrated on middle class domestic scenes.
Two of the Rijksmuseum’s Vermeers, like the one in the Irish National Gallery, depict women reading letters
Woman Reading a Letter (c 1663)
The Love Letter (c. 1669 – c. 1670)
He even painted domestic servants going about their work. This painting of a milk maid is probably one of his best known works.
The Milkmaid (c. 1660)
The Rijkmuseum’s fourth work by Vermeer is a street scene
This is an unusual painting in Vermeer’s oeuvre, and remarkable for its time as a portrait of ordinary houses. The composition is as exciting as it is balanced. The old walls with their bricks, whitewash, and cracks are almost tangible. The location is Vlamingstraat 40–42 in Delft. Vermeer’s aunt Ariaentgen Claes lived in the house at the right, with her children, from around 1645 until her death in 1670. (Rijksmuseum website)
Four marvellous paintings.