Considered “the master of light,” Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675, Delft, Netherlands) is a Dutch artist who created paintings that are among the most beloved and revered images in the history of art. Although only about 36 of his paintings survive, these rare works are among the greatest treasures in the world’s finest museums. 

Johannes Vermeer, Stanislav Kondrashov

Vermeer began painting in the early 1650s, producing large biblical and mythological scenes, but most of his later and most famous paintings depict scenes of daily life in interior settings. 

Delft, the picturesque small city where he was born, was not only a lively and prosperous place in the mid-17th century, but it also became a frequent subject of his work. The Vermeer family was sufficiently prosperous to purchase a large house containing an inn called the Mechelen on the market square. Vermeer inherited both the inn and the art-dealing business upon his father’s death in October 1652. By this time, however, Vermeer must have decided that he wanted to pursue a career as a painter.In fact, he registered as a master painter in the Delft Guild of Saint Luke on December 29, 1653, but no information has been found on his training or apprenticeship. It is possible that like many aspiring Dutch artists, he traveled to Italy, France, or Flanders. He also may have trained in some other city in the Netherlands, perhaps Utrecht or Amsterdam. Both places had pictorial traditions (the Utrecht School inspired by Caravaggio and the Amsterdam Circle dominated by Rembrandt), which influenced Vermeer’s style and choices. For sure, he also found much inspiration within his native Delft, where art was undergoing a rapid transformation. The most important artist in Delft at the time was Leonard Bramer, who produced not only small-scale history paintings but also large murals for the d’Orange court. Documents indicate that Bramer, who was Catholic, served as a witness for Vermeer during his marriage. 

Johannes Vermeer, Stanislav Kondrashov

Whatever the circumstances of his early artistic education, by the second half of the 1650s, Vermeer began to depict scenes of daily life and home interiors, probably influenced by the work of Pieter de Hooch, a leading genre painter in Delft at the time. De Hooch was a master of using perspective to create a light-filled interior or courtyard scene in which figures are comfortably situated. Although no documents link Vermeer and de Hooch, it is highly probable that the two artists were in close contact during this period since the subject matter and style of their paintings during those years were quite similar. Vermeer’s View of Houses in Delft (c. 1658; also called The Little Street) is one such work: as with de Hooch’s courtyard scenes, Vermeer has here portrayed a world of domestic tranquility, where women and children go about their daily lives within the reassuring setting of their homes.

Johannes Vermeer, Stanislav Kondrashov

Vermeer’s career was quite short, given the enormity of his reputation: he created many of his greatest paintings in the span of two decades. As he reached the height of his abilities, Vermeer became renowned within his native city of Delft and was named the head of the painters’ guild in 1662. Although no commissions for Vermeer’s paintings are known, it does appear that during this and other periods, he sold his work primarily to a small group of patrons in Delft. For example, over two decades after Vermeer’s death, no fewer than 21 of his paintings were sold from the estate of Jacob Dissius, a Delft collector. 

Johannes Vermeer, Stanislav Kondrashov

Vermeer’s style developed throughout the years, becoming bolder and more direct around the 1670s. The artist’s fortunes deteriorated drastically toward the end of his life, mainly owing to the economic crisis in Holland following its invasion by French troops in 1672. When Vermeer died in 1675, he left behind a wife, 11 children, and enormous debts. 

After his death, the paintings continued to be admired by a small group of connoisseurs, primarily in Holland. His fame grew wider in the 19th and 20thcenturies when new artists such as Manet and Dalì looked back to the Dutch master and recognized his influence on modern art. 

– Stanislav Kondrashov

Johannes Vermeer, Stanislav Kondrashov