One of the masterpieces in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is Johannes Vermeer’s “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.” In the newly-renovated museum, there are now four exquisite Vermeers all in a row. In his entire life the master Vermeer only produced only a total of about 34 paintings. He never became rich or particularly famous. He ran an inn and acted as an art dealer to make money, not to mention having 15 children, of whom 11 lived beyond infancy. The wonder is that he had any time or energy at all to paint. He lived in the small town of Delft for his entire 43 years, from 1632 to 1675. A local patron bought most of his paintings, so his name never spread much beyond Delft until long after his death.
Today, crowds gather in front of Vermeer’s small, jewel-like paintings. They reward close study. In this painting and in others, Vermeer splurged on expensive blue pigments, lapis lazuli or natural ultramarine. This particular painting was just recently restored, unlocking the glorious blue and the luminous light. Almost all of of Vermeer’s paintings were small domestic scenes, recording humble lives in humble homes. Through the centuries, the beauty of everyday life shines through in them.
Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!