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Famous Paintings Reviewed

Vermeer Paintings: Girl with a Pearl Earring

Posted by Susan Benford

Of the 36 known Vermeer paintings, none is more beloved than Girl with a Pearl Earring.

It has inspired a best-selling book, Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring; a 2003 movie starring Scarlett Johansson; countless variations, and the nickname, "The Dutch Mona Lisa".

But Girl with a Pearl Earring outshines Mona Lisa any day. 

vermeer girl with a pearl earring resized 600

Johann Vermeer.  Girl with a Pearl Earring, ca. 1665.  Oil on canvas, approximately 17 1/2" by 15".  Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, The Netherlands.

Curiously, there are no known sketchs or preliminary drawings for any Vermeer paintingsArt historians have concluded that Vermeer used a camera obscura, a pre-photography device used to project images.  The camera converts tiny reflections of light into pinpoints or highlights that have come to typify Vermeer paintings. 

In the 17th century, Holland was the most urbanized country in Europe, with massive wealth accumulated from its maritime trade.  Portraiture was a popular genre for demonstrating wealth, including a subset of portraiture called tronies.  These bust-length portraits were studies of facial expressions and postures rather than precise likenesses of particular people. 

Indisputably, the most renowned Dutch tronie is Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Little is known about the life of Johann Vermeer (1632 - 1675). Various reports say, for vermeer view of delft resized 600instance, that he had between eight and fifteen children.  

Johann Vermeer.  View of Delft, Netherlands, After the Fire, ca. 1658.  Oil on canvas, approximately 39" by 46".  Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, The Netherlands

What is known is that Vermeer was impoverished when he died - his wife had to sell his works to support herself and children; Vermeer all but disapeared from art history for nearly two centuries; and only three of the 36 existant Vermeer paintings are not interiors:

  • View of Delft, Netherlands, After the Fire (left), the only known Vermeer landscape;

  • Girl with a Red Hat, ca. 1665-66, the only known Vermeer work on panel (below, right); and

  • Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Vermeer was 're-discovered' in the mid 1850s by the French art critic, Theophile Thore-Burger, who is also credited for discovering other Dutch painters including Frans Hals and Carel Fabritius. Thore-Burger asserted what many still believe today,

Vermeer's most remarkable trait... is the quality of his light.

Nowhere is that quality of light captured more brilliantly than in Girl with a Pearl Earring. The identity of the model isn't known (perhaps that'll change with art historians' use of newly developed facial recognition software).  The mystery surrounding her is compounded by her exotic garb, atypical of Dutch clothing.

Semicircular brush strokes are visible in the blue turban, created with expensive ultramarine describe the imagepigment.  On her face, which is silky smooth, no brushstrokes can be discerned.  Her jacket collar is created with lush, juicy brushstrokes while the rest of her top is sketchily modeled. 

Two features of Girl with A Pearl Earring struck me when I saw it in the exhibition Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the

Johann Vermeer.  The Girl with The Red Hat, ca. 1665-1666.  Oil on panel.  Painted surface 9 by 7 1/16"; framed 15 7/8 x 14 x 1 3/4".  Andrew W. Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Mauritshuis: this portrait has striking immediacy, as if this mysterious woman abruptly became aware of viewers, and turned toward us to speak. Also, the palette in Girl with a Pearl Earring is quite limited. Oddly, this merely magnifies its power and beauty.  

You'll be spellbound.

Is there a Vermeer work you prefer? If so... do tell, and please make your case!

Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis will be at the High Museum of Art from June 23 - September 29, 2013, where all 35 paintings will be shown, and the Frick Collection from October 22 - January 19, 2014, where 15 of these masterpieces will be exhibitied. 

Not able to make these dates? Remember that there are five Vermeer paintings at the Met, three in the Frick Collection, and three in Washington, D. C.'s National Gallery of Art.


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Topics: Vermeer paintings, Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring

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Famous Painters Blogroll

Anguissola, Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain

Beckmann, Blind Man's Buff

Beckmann, Departure; Self-Portrait in Tuxedo; Sinking of Titanic

Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

BonheurPlowing in the Nivernais

Bonheur, The Horse Fair

Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights

Botticelli, Primavera

Caillebotte, Gustave, The Floor Scrapers; The House Painters; Pont de l'Europe; Paris Street, Rainy Day; Fruit Displayed on a Stand

Caravaggio, Fashion and Art History

CaravaggioConversion of St. Paul

Caravaggio, Young, Sick Bacchus and Basket of Fruit

Caravaggio, Cardsharps and Fortune Teller

Caravaggio, St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy

Caravaggio, Taking of Christ (Kiss of Judas)

Caravaggio Paintings at the Villa Borghese

Cave Paintings

Cezanne, Bathers 

Cezanne, Card Players

Cezanne, Madame Cezanne Paintings

Cezanne, Most Famous Paintings

Cezanne, Red Dress series

Copley, Paul Revere

David, Death of Marat 

David, Death of Socrates

David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

de Kooning, Retrospective at MoMA (Part I)

de Kooning,Excavation and Painting, 1948 

de KooningWoman I

Degas, The Bellilli Family, The Dance Class, In a Cafe (Absinthe Drinker)

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People  

Diebenkorn, The Ocean Park Series

Duncanson, Robert Seldon.  Art History Welcomes Duncanson 

Durer, The Four Apostles

El Greco, Burial of Count Orgaz

El Greco, View of Toledo

FontanaPortrait of a Noblewoman

Frankenthaler, Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea

Gainsborough, The Blue Boy

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Judith Beheading Holofernes

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting 

Ghent Altarpiece.  

GiorgioneThree Philosophers 

Goya, Duchess of Alba

Goya, Family of Charles IV

Goya, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta

Goya, The Third of May 1808 

Goya, Duchess of Alba; Saturn Devouring his Son; Two Old Men; Half-Submerged Dog; Black Paintings

Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece

Hals, Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard

Hals, The Laughing Cavalier

Hals, Regents of St. Elizabeth's Hospital

Hopper, Nighthawks

Ingres, Grande Odalisque and Portrait of Madame Moissetier

Ingres, Oedipus and the Sphinx

Isenheim Altarpiece

Kahlo, Renowned Frida Kahlo Paintings.  

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting and David Garrick.  

Klimt, The Kiss and Adele Bloch-Bauer

Lawrence, Great Migration Series

Leonardo, Lady with an Ermine

Leonardo, Painter at the Court of Milan, National Gallery, London 

Leonardo, La Bella Principessa 

Leonardo, New Mona Lisa

Leonardo, Benois Madonna and Madonna Litta 

Leonardo, Savior of the World(Salvator Mundi) 

Leonardo, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne

Leyster, Famous Female Painters

20 Louvre Paintings not to Miss 

ManetA Bar at the Folies-Bergere

Manet, Luncheon in the Studio

Manet, The Old Musician

Manet, Street Singer

MantegnaDead Christ

Matisse Paintings, In Search of True Painting

Matisse, The DanceThe Music

Matisse, The Cone Collection

Matisse, The Red Studio

Matisse, The Yellow Dress

Michelangelo, Crucifixion with the Madonna

Michelangelo, Famous Paintings

Michelangelo, La Pieta with Two Angels (latest attribution?)

Michelangelo, St. John the Baptist Bearing Witness

Modersohn-Becker, Famous Female Painters

Monet, Impression, Sunrise

Monet, Nymphaes, Le Pont de l'Europe

Monet Paintings at the Marmottan Monet Museum

Monet, Waterlilies

Morisot, Famous Paintings

MorisotMore Famous Paintings

Munch, The Scream

O'Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit

Peeters, Clara

Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror

Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust

Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein

Picasso, Las Meninas

Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ

Pippin, Domino Players and Cabin in the Cotton

Poussin, Assumption of the Virgin

Raphael, Sistine Madonna

Rembrandt, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer 

Rembrandt, Night Watch

Rembrandt paintings at Frick Show

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait at an Early AgeJeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, The Jewish Bride

Rembrandt, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild

Rubens, Venus and Adonis

Sanchez Cotan, Spanish Still-life

Sargent, El Jaleo

Sargent, Madame X

Sargent, Smoke of Ambergris

Steen, The Christening Feast 

Steen paintings at Frick Show

Tanner, The Banjo Lesson and The Thankful Poor

Titian, Assumption of the Virgin

Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian, Man with a Glove

Titian, Nymph and Shepherd, Allegory of Prudence, Jacopa Strada, St. Jerome, Slaying of Marysas

Titian, Rape of Europa

Turner, J. M. W, The Fighting Temeraire

Uccello, Battle of San Romano

van der Weyden, St. Luke Drawing the Virgin

van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait

van Eyck, Adoration of the Lamb

van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece

van Gogh, The Potato Eaters

van GoghMemory of Garden at Etten; Tatched Cottages; White House

van Gogh,  Portrait of Madam Trabuc; Morning: Going Out

van Gogh, Starry Night

van Gogh, Three Pairs of Shoes

Vincent van Gogh paintings up to 1889

Vincent van Gogh paintings, 1888-1890

Vigee-LeBrun, Marie Antoinette and Her Children, Self Portrait, Self-Portrait with Julie

Velazquez, Juan de Pareja

Velazquez, Pope Innocent X

Velazquez, Overview of Famous Paintings

Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring

Vermeer, Saint Praxedis

Vermeer, The Kitchen Maid

Vermeer, The Allegory of Painting

VermeerGirl with the Red Hat

Vigee-LeBrun, Marie Antoinette and Her ChildrenSelf PortraitSelf-Portrait with Julie

Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans

Warhol, Marilyn Diptych and Gold Marilyn 

Warhol, Mao 

Whistler, Whistler's Mother

Anders Zorn

Famous Paintings by Art Museums

Learn about famous paintings to see in these art museums:

Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY). One of those intimate, small art museums with a stellar collectionExplore famous paintings at the Albright-Knox. 

Art Institute of Chicago: Plan to see these famous paintings at the Art Institute -- and download an ebook about them.

Louvre Museum, (Paris): one of the largest art museums in the world! Know which Louvre paintings not to miss in this sortable ebook. 

Mauritshuis Museum: explore works by renowned Dutch painters

Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City): download the ebook, Famous-Paintings-Metropolitan-Museum, to learn its must-see masterpieces. Or read the blog post, "Famous Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum". 

National Gallery (London): with 2300 famous paintings alone in its European painting section, discover highlights to see!  Art Paintings to See at the National Gallery.

Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam): 10 famous paintings not to miss

Washington, D.C. Art Museums: Explore forty famous paintings in Washington, DC in this article.

Whitney Museum of American Art.  Don't miss these 10 famous paintings at the Whitney.

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Ghent Altarpiece: the van Eyck masterpiece, one of the most famous artworks ever made. 

10 Famous Paintings at the Prado. Don't miss a one of these.

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Discover more of readers' favorite art history blog posts. 

Female Artists

While we long for the time when artists are artists and genderless, that time isn't yet here.

These are a few of the female artists who've left lasting legacies in the history of painting:

Sofonisba AnguissolaThree Sisters Playing ChessPhillip II of Spain

Rosa Bonheur.  Plowing in the Nivernais.  Horse Fair.

Lavinia Fontana. Portrait of a Noblewoman.

Helen Frankenthaler. Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea. 

Artemisia Gentileschi.  Judith Beheading Holofernes.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting.

Frida Kahlo.  Frida and Diego Rivera.  The Two Fridas.  The Love Embrace of the Universe. 

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting.  David Garrick.

Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun.  Self-Portrait; Marie Antoinette and Her Children; Self-Portrait with Julie

Judith Leyster.  Self-Portrait.  The Proposition. 

Paula Modersohn-Becker. Self-Portrait with an Amber Necklace. Still Life with Goldfish. 

Berthe Morisot.  Refuge in Normandy.  The Cradle. 

Georgia O'Keeffe. Jack in the Pulpit Series. 

Survey of Female Artists

Art History Beyond Europe

A few forays into art outside Europe:

African Art and Bocio

African Mask of Idia


Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Great Wave

The Terracotta Warriors