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  • Johannes VermeerOct 31, 1632 - Dec 15, 1675
  • The Girl with the Red Hat - Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque painter who specialized in exquisite, domestic interior scenes of middle class life. Vermeer worked slowly and with great care, using bright colours and sometimes expensive pigments, with a preference for cornflower blue and yellow. He is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.
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The Girl with the Red Hat
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  • The Girl with the Red Hat

  • Johannes Vermeer
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  • c. 1665-1667
    Oil on panel
    National Gallery of Art - Washington, United States.

    Mark Harden:

    "Coming upon this painting in the exhibition, the viewer is confronted with an abrupt change from the other works. "The Girl with the Red Hat" is small even by Vermeer's standards; it is his only known work that was executed on wood panel; and most importantly, its immediacy and intimacy contrast sharply with the meditative mood of the other paintings.

    "Despite its modest dimensions, a strong visual impact results from the large scale of the girl. Brought close to the picture plane, she communicates directly with the viewer. Her direct gaze and slightly parted lips impart a sense of spontaneity and anticipation. Vermeer relies heavily on color to establish the mood of the work. The red of the hat and the blue of the robe contrast strongly with the muted background. The bright red of the hat advances, heightening the immediacy of the girl's glance, while the blue of the robe recedes, balancing the composition. Vermeer retained warmth in the robe by painting the blue over a reddish-brown ground. The materials - the red hat, robe and chair finials - are animated by highlights of reflected light. Subtle highlights on the girl's eye and mouth animate her expression. Finally, the intense white of the girl's cravat, painted as a thick impasto with parts later chipped off, cradles her face, focusing attention on her expression.

    "The small size of this work allowed Vermeer to use painstaking detail in its execution. A precise depiction of texture and light is achieved through the duplication of thin glazes over painted ground. To represent the hat, Vermeer firs painted an opaque layer of deep orange red. He then added semi-transparent strokes of light red and orange to render the feathers. The robe highlights allow the underlying blue to show through. With this glaze technique, the underlying layer is used to help model the forms of the composition.

    "Most scholars agree that Vermeer utilized a camera obscura in the composition and execution of "The Girl with a Red Hat". It is possible that he chose a wood panel support to replicate the gloss of a camera obscura image, which was normally projected onto glass. In particular, the diffused specular highlights of the lion head chair finial resemble the unfocused effect of an image seen in a camera obscura. Vermeer expert Arthur Wheelock points out, however, that Vermeer did not simply paint on top of an image projected by a camera obscura. While camera obscura effects were emulated in portions of the painting, in other places, the expected effects are not seen.

    "Compositional adjustments also contradict the literal reproduction of a camera obscura image. For instance, the left chair finial is larger and angled to the right. If the chair top is extended to the left, it ends up misaligned with the finial. Vermeer adjusted the lines of the chairback to stress the foreground plane of the composition while at the same time, allowing space for the girl's arm to rest."

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Johannes VermeerThe life and art of Johannes Vermeer are closely associated with the city of Delft. Vermeer was born in Delft in 1632 and lived there until his death in 1675. His father, Reynier Jansz., was a weaver who produced "caffa," a fine satin fabric. In 1631 he also registered in the Saint Luke's Guild in Delft as a master art dealer. By 1641 he was sufficiently prosperous to purchase a large house with an inn, the "Mechelen," on the market square in Delft, where he probably also sold paintings. When Reynier died in 1652 Johannes apparently inherited his father's business. By that time he must have already decided on a career as a painter. It is assumed that he trained in Delft, perhaps with Leonaert Bramer (1596-1674), who seems to have had close associations with Vermeer's family, or with Carel Fabritius (1622-1654). No documents, however, exist about his artistic training or apprenticeship, and he may have studied elsewhere, perhaps in Utrecht or Amsterdam.

Vermeer, who was baptized on 31 October 1632 in the Reformed Church in Delft, was raised a Protestant. In April 1653 Vermeer married into a Catholic family and seems to have converted to Catholicism shortly before that date to placate his future mother-in-law, Maria Thins. Maria Thins lived in the so-called Papists' Corner ("Papenhoek") of Delft, adjacent to one of the two churches where Catholics could worship, the Jesuit church on the Oude Langendijck. Vermeer and his wife, Catharina Bolnes, eventually moved from the "Mechelen" into her house. They named their first daughter Maria, in honor of Maria Thins, and their first son Ignatius, after the patron saint of the Jesuit Order.

Vermeer became a master in the Saint Luke's Guild on 29 December 1653. His aspiration at that time seems to have been to become a history painter, for his first works were large-scale mythological and religious paintings. Shortly thereafter he began to paint the genre scenes, landscapes, and allegories for which he has become renowned. While Vermeer's subject matter changed in the mid-1650s, he nevertheless continued to imbue his later works with the quiet, intimate moods of his early history paintings.

Although very little is known about relationships with other painters who might have influenced the thematic and stylistic direction of his art, Vermeer apparently knew Gerard ter Borch II, with whom he co-signed a document in 1653. Another artist who may well have had an impact on his work during the 1650s was Pieter de Hooch, who painted comparable scenes in Delft during that period. Vermeer remained a respected artist in Delft throughout the rest of his life. He was named hoofdman of the Delft St. Luke's Guild in 1662, 1663, 1670, and 1671.

Vermeer's few works--they number only about thirty-five--were not well known outside of Delft, perhaps because many of them were concentrated in the collection of a patron in Delft who seems to have had a special relationship with the artist. When Vermeer died, however, he was heavily in debt, in part because his art dealing business had suffered during the difficult economic times following the French invasion of the Netherlands in the early 1670s. Vermeer was survived by his wife Catharina and eleven children, eight of whom were underage. His wife petitioned for bankruptcy the following year. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the famed Delft microscopist who was apparently a friend of Vermeer, was named trustee for the estate.