Vermeer: Erroneous Attributions and Forgeries
"For nearly 200 years after his death in 1675, no one knew the extent of Vermeer's oeuvre. A few connoisseurs in the Netherlands maintained continuous contact with some of his flagship paintings but, by the end of the 18th century, many of Vermeer's other works remained hidden or were attributed to another painter. By the 1850s, however, the French art critic, Etienne J. Théophile Thoré (more publicly known as William Burger, the pseudonym he adopted in 1855 during his political exile from France and retained until the end of his life) had launched a formidable campaign to locate Vermeer's work.
Despite an obsessive desire to establish the artistic identity of what he dubbed the 'Sphinx of Delft,' Thorè- Bürger's search was especially hindered by the moveable traverse of Vermeer's style. All of these factors, combined with the dispersal of Vermeer's paintings over time after his death and a rather wide range of techniques that the artist employed, presented experts with a most difficult task of attempting to authenticate (and date) Vermeer's work. Consequently, by 1866, when Thorè- Bürger formally brought Vermeer to the attention of readers of Paris' Gazette des Beaux Arts in three articles which later became a book, he gave Vermeer credit for more than seventy paintings. Clearly, in an effort to be inclusive, he had cast his net far too widely, though Thorè- Bürger did succeed in defining the stylistic, thematic contours of Vermeer's oeuvre."1
Although Thorè-Bürger had wrongly attributed many paintings to Vermeer, the importance of his pioneering effort is of pivotal importance to scholars today. Dutch painting at the time had not yet been studied systematically, and there existed few of today's indispensable analytical methods and technical supports for determining the authenticity of dubious works of art. Far less excusable were the forgeries which came later.
"By the end of the nineteenth century Vermeer [paintings] were beginning to fetch big money. American millionaires, including Henry Marquand, J. Piermont Morgan, Henry Frick and Isabella Stewart Gardner, had joined the Vermeer owner's club, and the great American museums were discreetly lobbying for the pictures to be given to them or at least lent to them and later given as bequests. The Dutch museum director and art historian Abraham Bredius did well in this process. He had bought the Allegory of Faith in 1899 for roughly 700 guilders, loaned it to the Mauritshuis and the Boijmans Museum for many years, and then sold it for $300,000 to the American collector Michael Friedsam. Friedsam later left it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Vermeer prices were also affected by shortage: there just weren't enough of them to go around. With hindsight, we can see that the conditions were becoming ripe for new 'Vermeer's' to turn up, whether as result of generous attribution or from counterfeiting...as entrepreneurs thought there should be more of them to fulfill the demand."2
In 1928, Wilhelm Reinhold Valentiner, the art historian and director of the Detroit Museum of Art, wrote optimistically: "It is still quite possible that for a number of years to come new Vermeers may now and then appear." "Vermeer used a very small number of models and repeated certain details like costumes, curtains, pillows, windows, mantelpieces and even paintings hanging on the walls so often that newly discovered works by him frequently seem like puzzle pictures taken from different groupings in known pictures by him. [They almost serve as] a description of how to forge a Vermeer."
Vermeer's name was brought to the spotlight of international attention in the 1920s and 1930s as enthusiastic collectors, in competition with one another, were willing to pay high prices for what a greedy art trade, with the complicity of trusted scholars, was too willing to establish as authentic Vermeers. In 1937, Philip Leslie Hale, an America painter, teacher and writer, who published the first monograph on Vermeer in America (Vermeer, 1913 and 1937), summed up the fluid state of affairs as follows:
Discoveries of paintings which some one would like to attribute to Vermeer of Delft are announced from time to time. Such "finds" were naturally quite frequently heralded in the years between the end of the World War and the oncoming of the depression of 1929, for in that era many works of art ascribed to celebrated old masters were sold to American men of wealth at fabulously high prices. Because of his vogue among collectors the market value of a work that confidently could be attributed to Vermeer became tremendous—a circumstance which naturally intensified the search for paintings that might by any authority be given to Vermeer.
It would be difficult, and hardly worth while, to describe in detail all the paintings which collectors and art dealers, sometimes after authentication by an "authority," have declared to be by Vermeer, but which have seemed, upon later and perhaps more disinterested examination, to be the work of lesser or unknown artists. This situation will presumably continue. It is well for those who appreciate Vermeer's work for its intrinsic worth to be slow to accept new attributions, however cleverly supported, since all the trustworthy evidence indicates that the number of paintings from Vermeer's hand could not have been large. "Discoveries," for that reason if for no other, must face a presumption of reasonable doubt, which can be resolved only by very strong evidence in their favor, documentary or internal, or preferably both.
Click here to access a self portrait by Hale.
Although the "Vermeer craze'" assumed international proportions, it had yet to reach its sad climax in the post-WWII trial of the infamous Dutch forger, Han van Meegeren.
Following Vermeer's death, his paintings were dispersed across the European continent. Within a few decades all sight of his artistic development, and a number of his works, was lost.
Dirk Jan van der Laan's The Rustic Cottage was erroneously believed to be an authentic Vermeer by Thorè- Bürger, the French art historian and left-wing politician who is considered the man who rediscovered Vermeer.
In the annual Paris Salon of 1866, this landscape was shown along with other Vermeers, some authentic but some not, and was among the public favorites. According to the French writer Charles Yriarte, painters were particularly enthralled by its light. Zacharie Astruc, the French sculptor, painter and poet, considered it a powerful composition and an unforgettable example of Vermeer.3
"From 1748 to 1890, the Salon de Paris was the official exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. The greatest art event in the Western world, its (bi)annual shows were highly popular with the public. Entrance fees were affordable for all, and sixty thousand curious visitors flocked to the show's first day. Exhibitions ran for several weeks. Newspapers competed to report on the quality of the works and the attitudes of artists and public, often in the form of satire and caricature."4
One of the most successful parts of the 1866 Salon was the Exposition Rètrospective of old and modern masters, which began in May. The exhibition was held in the four galleries of the Palais de l'Industrie des Champs-Élysées, in the same building as the annual Salon and directly adjacent to it. The catalogue introduction insisted that the Exposition Rètrospective was intended to be a salutary influence on contemporary artists and on public taste by its demonstration of durable artistic achievements. However, it was also a celebration of private collections, a showcase of famously owned works of art of interest to present and potential collectors 5 Thorè- Bürger had been influential behind the scenes, in charge of organizing and hanging the exhibition.
The exhibition started with 180 paintings but provoked such an enormous public success that many private art collectors offered their works for display until it closed with almost 300. The works on display spanned centuries of European art including both Old Masters, such as Beato Angelico, and moderns, such as to Delacroix. The exhibition featured eleven paintings believed to be by Vermeer, who was at the time hardly known outside the Netherlands. Hand picked by Thorè- Bürger, there were four interiors with figures, four town views and three landscapes. Today, only the interiors, The Geographer, the Officer and Laughing Girl, A Lady Standing at a Virginal and the Woman with a Pearl Necklace, are considered authentic.6
"The Rustic Cottage was bought in 1865 by the Dutch-german art collector Barthold Suermondt, an entrepreneur, banker, philanthropist and art collector, from a private art collector in Liège. In 1860, Gustav Waagen compiled the catalogue of Surmount's art collection attributing it to the Dutch landscape painter Philips Koninck, although it had been formerly attributed to Meyndert Hobbema and Jacob van Ruisdael. When Thorè- Bürger, who had been charged to write the catalogue's introduction, saw the picture he immediately believed it was by the hand of Vermeer."7 Thorè- Bürger was particularly attached to the picture which he held to be one of Vermeer's finest works.
Years later, the young art historian Abraham Bredius was struck but the "modern look" of the picture, which in the mean time had been purchased by the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. He wrote an article ("Erin pseudo-Vermeer," 1883) in which he correctly identified Van der Laan as the painting's author, and in the process made a name for himself. Ironically, many years later, Bredius would discredit himself by attributing the newly discovered Supper at Emmaus to Vermeer.
The painting was later proved to be a crude forgery by Han van Meegeren. The 83 year old art historian wrote an article in the Burlington Magazine, the "art bible" of the time, in which he declared, "It is a wonderful moment in the life of a lover of art when he finds himself suddenly confronted with a hitherto unknown painting by a great master, untouched, on the original canvas, and without any restoration, just as it left the painter's studio. And what a picture! Neither the beautiful signature . . . nor the pointillé on the bread which Christ is blessing, is necessary to convince us that we have here—I am inclined to say—the masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft . . . quite different from all his other paintings and yet every inch a Vermeer. In no other picture by the great master of Delft do we find such sentiment, such a profound understanding of the Bible story—a sentiment so nobly human expressed through the medium of highest art."
When in 1792 Jan van der Laan painted this variant of Vermeer's Little Street, he probably had not even the slightest idea that it would later be attributed to the master himself. This work was shown with great success in the Parisian 1866 Salon exhibition.
Van der Laan (1759–1829) was a patrician and amateur painter from Zwolle. He was active between 1774 and c. 1829.
Below is an image of Van der Laan's City View in the Winter at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
At the 1866 Exposition Rètrospective, the Street Scene was the public favorite and was also considered one of Vermeer's best works by connoisseurs who were impressed by the novelty of the picturesque Dutch street scenes. Zacharie Astruc, the French sculptor, painter, poet and art critic, singled this work out for its studied simplicity: "One hears voices..." he wrote. "What intimate existence, and how well expressed."8 The painting was afterwards attributed to Jacobus Vrel.
"Signatures on paintings are the only surviving documents of Jacobus Vrel's life. His seemingly naïve style and his pictures' rarity even have prompted speculation that he was an amateur. Scholars most often link Vrel's manner to Delft artists such as Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch, but elements in his street scenes may indicate connections to Haarlem, Friesland, Flanders, or the lower Rhineland. Scholars have attributed thirty-eight paintings depicting domestic interiors, courtyards, street scenes, and church interiors to Vrel. His only dated painting, from 1654, suggests that, rather than following, Vrel anticipated Delft artists' interest in domestic themes and light effects.
Vrel rejected Dutch artists' traditional approach of describing surfaces in great detail. Instead, he created lofty spaces, often conveying an eerie feeling of emptiness. His interiors, with their curiously stunted furniture, frequently display a single woman, usually viewed from behind or in profile. His street scenes are unusual in their anonymity, showing unremarkable back streets and ordinary people. Vrel's painting technique—a straightforward manner without glazes or other refinements complemented his unpretentious subjects."9
This paintings was part of the art collection of Thoré-Bürger, who firmly believed it was by Vermeer. It was sold to the Rijksmuseum at the auction of the art historian's art collection held on 5 December, 1892, at the Hôtel Drouot, Paris.
Click here to view a high-resolution image of this painting.
Among the 11 paintings by Vermeer, this view of dunes was one of the three landscapes which Thoré-Bürger had selected for the Exposition Rètrospective.
It is generally held that Thorè- Bürger's radical leftist political leanings and particular ability to be easily swayed ny signatures brought him to represent Vermeer chiefly as a landscape painter. In fact, in his three-part article in the Gazette de Beaux Arts (1866), in which for the first time Vermeer was brought to the attention of the wider public, he included some 22 landscape and cityscapes by Vermeer (click here to view the catalogue) . Some, were later discovered to be by the obscure painters such as Jacob Vrel, Jan van der Laan and Vermeer's namesake and contemporary, Dirk Jan van der Meer, while other were by well-known Dutch landscape painters such Ruisdael or Koninck.
This picture first passed from the Radenmaker collection, The Hague, to the Wildenstein & Co. in Paris after through the art dealer Joseph Joel Duveen refused to buy it. The picture had been initially "discovered" by the dealer and art historian of d 1ubious reputation, Vitale Bloch. In 1926, it had been exhibited in the Reinhardt Galleries of New York. Wildenstein sold it to New York financier Jules. S. Bache, a New York financier and determined art collector, who had ardently desired to augment his private art collection with a Vermeer but wound up purchasing two paintings that were not by the Delft Master's hand.
The picture had been previously attributed by some to Jef van der Veken, a Belgian copyist, although the leading Van Veken authority of today considers it extremely unlikely.
Although Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, the art historian, art collector, expert and connoisseur specialized in Dutch seventeenth-century painting, assigned it to Vermeer's hand, other critics were more cautious. It was resolutely rejected by Philip Hale and was thereafter excluded from consideration.
"The fabrication of this painting is atypical of the seventeenth century. Analysis reveals the use of a zinc white primer, which was not widely used as an artists' material until the end of the eighteenth century. After the painting was completed, the support was manipulated to induce cracks. A black material, possibly ink, was rubbed into the cracks, and the surface was distressed and retouched in an attempt to simulate an old paint film."10 The picture may be a collaborative work by Van Meegeren and Theo van Wijngaarden.
In 1924, Harold Wright showed this painting to Wilhem von Bode, who however, declared it was not by Vermeer. Bode was frequently called on to authenticate paintings that were presumably by the hand some great master in the hopes of cashing in on the spectacularly rising prices of the art market in those years.
The painting was also presented to the Duveen gallery by an Englishman who had claimed the picture had belonged to his family for many yeas. The painting was x-rayed: no negative evidence turned up but it was rejected the same.
After Bode's death, it was authenticated by Wilhem Valentiner, Bode's successor at the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin. The picture ended up in an American private collection.11
Bode was an enormously influential and controversial German art historian, director of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin and director general of the Royal Prussian Museums. He was "among the first museum directors to court private collectors, advising them freely in hopes of securing their collections, which often happened. Bode's errors in attribution were as high profile as his successes."12 He had worked "hand in glove with dealers his entire career, trading favors to get the artworks he wanted for his…Kaiser Friedrich museum, using his power to give or withhold certificates as leverage…"13
Jonathan Lopez, the American writer, art historian and Van Meegeren expert, suspects that forgers had deliberately targeted Bode because they had come close to understanding Bode's reasons for accepting or turning down specific paintings.14
In 1938–1940, this picture was on the Amsterdam market and it seems it had come from a private English collector. During WW II, it was acquired by the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum where it remained briefly. It was accepted as an autograph Vermeer by various scholars the last of which was Ary Bob de Vries who, in 1948, dated it c. 1665. Two years later, he rejected it. The picture bore a signature "I V MEER 16.." which was proved to be false.
The painting was published in full color in De Vries' monograph on Vermeer of 1939. However, following the Van Meegeren debacle of false Vermeers, De Vries excluded it from the 1948 edt ion and declared, "I realized that I allowed myself to be mislead; this portrait beasts only the faintest resemblance to Vermeer."
In 1926, this picture was discovered in the private collection of Walter Kurt Rhode in Berlin and sold, with a certificate of authenticity by Wilhem Bode, as an early work by Johannes Vermeer to the American magnate and art collector, Andrew W. Mellon. Bode proclaimed it was a "characteristic work of the Delft Master Vermeer."
Mellon, an immensely wealthy American banker who was bitten by the art about the age of forty, was a prime target for European art dealers. Duveen had bribed Mellon's servants to keep him informed as to their master's comings and goings and kept a "dossier on Mellon's movements, his visitors, his art collection, his dinner parties, and whatever thoughts were heard escape his lips."15 After the Girl with a Red Hat, Mellon bought this painting and a Lace Maker, both of which turned out to be false.
Hofstede de Groot accepted it as genuine (1930) but De Vreis, P. T. A. Swillens, Lawrence Gowing and Vitale Bloch rejected it. Philip Hale felt that the technique was greatly inferior that of the Girl with a Pearl Earring.
The figure is garbed in buff with a white collar and a blue scarf on the head. The background is greenish. The figure's hair is brushed back from a high, broad forehead, and over it is a small cap or coif. The familiar pear-shaped pearl dangles from the right ear. Under a plain white collar is a nondescript gray-brown garment.
This Laughing Girl now hangs in the "Special Collection" of the National Gallery in Washington and is thought to be a work by Van Meegeren and/or Van Wijngaarden, a lesser artist and restorer who was well known for executing copies of paintings that passed through his shop and adding signatures to unsigned works. Van Wijngaarden also purchased cheap pictures, reworked them and sold them in areas of Europe where they might be most easily sold for profit. It is believed that he collaborated with Van Meegeren's on several well-known forgeries, including a Frans Hals Smiling Girl. Van Wijngaarden frequently served as the front man, making the sales deals on Van Meegeren's forgeries.
According to Jonathan Lopez, "as far as Van Wijngaarden's granddaughter understood the arrangement, Van Meegeren furnished the raw image-making talent while her grandfather provided the technical knowledge of faking methods. Interestingly, this description of the partnership between Van Meegeren and Van Wijngaarden accords well with various facts uncovered, independently, through archival research into the scandalous case of The Laughing Cavalier."16
The Laughing Girl was exhibited in the Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450–1900 at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1929 (no. 317, as Head of a Young Girl by Johannes Vermeer). In 1935, it was exhibited in Rotterdam as an authentic work by Vermeer (cat. no. 88, Vermeer, oorsprong en invloed. Fabritius, de Hooch, de Witte, 9 July–9 October).
This picture passed from the art collection of Yves Perdoux to that Jules S. Bache through the art dealer Joseph Duveen. Bache, a New York financier and determined art collector, had acquired two paintings by Vermeer, neither of which was authentic.
In addition to his high profile in the business world, Bache was well known for his art collection, which contained important works including those by or attributed to Rembrandt, Titian, Albrecht Dürer, Diego Velázquez, Gerard David, Giovanni Bellini, and Sandro Botticelli. In 1937, he opened his magnificent art collection to the public, and in 1943 gifted some of his works to the Detroit Institute of Arts. In 1944, the remainder of his collection was given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The Bust of a Young Man was initially described to the hand of Sébastien Bourdon but later attributed to Vermeer by Hofstede de Groot, along with other scholars of repute. It was considered questionable by Emil Waldmann, in Kunst und Kiinstler, February, 1926.
Philip Hale wrote that the "painting of the collar is not unlike [Vermeer's] manner; the head, on the other hand, though very ably made, does not resemble Vermeer's workmanship as much as do other heads which are less skillfully painted. The Girl with a Flute, for instance, is not a particularly attractive picture but it reeks of Vermeer. This head does not. It looks more like the Italianate work of some French or Netherlands painter trained in Italy."
"Joseph Duveen and his brother Henry J. Duveen were the most notable art dealers in London, Paris and New York from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Joseph's success is famously attributed to noticing that 'Europe has a great deal of art, and America has a great deal of money.' He made his fortune by buying works of art from declining European aristocrats and selling them to the millionaires of the United States. Duveen's clients included Henry Clay Frick, William Randolph Hearst, Henry E. Huntington, J.P. Morgan, Samuel H. Kress, Andrew Mellon, John D. Rockefeller, and a Canadian Frank Porter Wood. The works that Duveen shipped across the Atlantic remain the core collections of many of the United States' most famous museums. Duveen played an important role in selling to self-made industrialists on the notion that buying art was also buying upper-class status. He greatly expanded the market, especially for Renaissance paintings; with the help of Bernard Berenson, who certified some questionable attributions, but whose ability to put an artistic personality behind paintings helped market them to purchasers whose dim perceptions of art history was as a series of biographies of masters."17
"During the 1920s, Duveen bought four paintings by Vermeer, none of which were authentic. He turned down the only authentic Vermeer he was offered, The Girl with a Red Hat, not because he believed it was a fake but because it was too small. Knoedler & Co. snapped up the picture and sold if for a handsome sum to Andrew Mellow, who had previously bought other fake Vermeers."18
In June 1927, "Captain" Harold R. Wright, a young Englishman who was employed at a paint factory, posed as war hero and ultimately styled himself as a cosmopolitan art connoisseur, arrived in Berlin with an unknown Dutch painting called The Lace Maker. Wright presented the picture, which he claimed he had found in an Amsterdam antique shop, to Wilhem Bode who declared it to be a "genuine, perfect and very characteristic work of Jan Vermeer of Delft." It was bought in 1928 by Andrew Mellon through Duveen.
Each time a new Vermeer was discovered, it sparked a round of coverage in the art press. In 1927, Seymour de Ricci, an English born bibliographer and historian, penned an ecstatic essay about the picture lauding it as an "infinitely charming work." He wrote, "it was not without emotion that I held, in my hands, this precious canvas. At leisure, I made it reflect in the setting sum, and little by little the beauties of detail showed up beneath my eyes. The analysis of a work so complete in its simplicity demands some patience from the collector. The eye is seized firstly by the impression of the ensemble, by the grace of the subject, by the general harmony of the tones."
Other than Wilhem Bode, the painting was attributed to Vermeer by two authorities of the State Museums, Berlin: Max Jacob Friedländer and Hermann Boss. Eduard Plietzsch has suggested that it was perhaps identical with the Woman Making Lace, sold at the 1696 auction of paintings by Vermeer (Hofstede de Groot, No. 12-b), of which there is no further record.
Philip Hale wrote, "while it hardly measures up to the very high standard set by the Louvre Lacemaker," the "painting has engaging qualities of design and execution. Several of the details, notably the cushion, the dish, the pearl, the frame for lace making, are well painted. The hands are somewhat weak and the mouth not very well made. The handling lacks the crispness of the Girl with the Red Hat. The face is pretty but painted weakly, whereas one thinks of Vermeer's heads as generally plain but strongly painted. The still life, which is good, may be contrasted with that in the Louvre Lacemaker. In the latter the handling is not so loose as in this one, but is firm and almost blocky." He noted the resemblance with the girl in Vermeer's Brunswick Girl with the Wine Glass.
When Mellon donated the Lace Maker to the National Gallery of art, it was labeled as a Vermeer although skeptics were heard as early as 1933. In 1937 it re-labeled as a "Follower of Vermeer" and in 1978, an "Imitator of Vermeer." Both of Mellon's false Vermeers, The Smiling Girl and The Lace Maker, are no longer on public display.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., the curator of Dutch painting in the National Gallery of Art, believes that both works were forged by Van Meegeren's old mentor, Theo van Wijngaarden. Edward Dolnick, author of The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century (2009), advances the two works were a collaborative effort by Van Wijngaarden and Van Meegeren. Dolnick hypothesizes that Van Meegeren may have done the painting and Van Wijngaarden the aging, being an able restorer who was familiar with the nuances of aged paintings. Van Wijngaarden also had a proven talent for finding potential buyers for forged works or art which Van Meegeren lacked.
This painting was sold at a London salesroom, 1922, and was subsequently acquired by the present owner [Ernest W. Savory]. When the old varnish and certain overpainting were removed the monogram "I V M" was discovered in the background.
Certain Netherlands authorities, when consulted regarding the painting, would not concede that it could be by Vermeer, but asserted that it is a characteristic self-portrait by Adriaen van de Velde.
M. Guiffrey, director of the Louvre, on the other hand, Dr. Hans Holler, editor of Thieme's Dictionary of Painters and a late director of the Buda-Pesth Gallery, Sir Joseph Duveen, Mr. P. S. Konody, Mr. Arthur Ruck and Mr. E. V. Lucas were unanimous in pronouncing this a work by Vermeer of Delft. There came, furthermore, into Mr. Savory's hands a copy of an old wood engraving of this subject showing below the lower left corner the engraved line: "J. Van der Meer pinxit,"; and on the right, partly obliterated through a tear in the paper, the name of the engraver,"—noboni, Sc." Vermeer's monogram appears in this engraving exactly where it figures in the painting itself. On the paper mount, in pencil, is inscribed the name of Simon Decker, who has been assumed to be the sitter. Simon Decker was a sexton at Delft and lost his life in 1654 in the explosion in which Carel Fabritius was killed.
Monograms on paintings are not conclusive, as they can be forged. An expert restorer, however, who handled the painting in question has certified that the repainting which he removed was at least a century old. As the monogram was found under the repainting it must be older than the early nineteenth century, at which time Vermeer had no reputation and hence was unlikely to be selected by a forger for exploitation.
The technique of this canvas has been thought to be like that of the Portrait of a Woman at Budapest, but it can hardly be said to have the convincing rectitude of the latter, the meticulous and yet broad treatment of the accessories or the beautiful separation of light and shade on the face. The Bristol work, nevertheless, has opalescent grays which are quite Vermeeresque.
If, indeed, this Head of a Young Man is by Vermeer, and if the sitter is Decker, the Delft sexton, it must be a very early work, painted before 1654. Its being a youthful performance might account for its not being of first quality. A photograph of the painting was published in Illustrated London Neivs, November 15, 1924, and Literary Digest, December 13, 1924. The latter periodical published also, from Houbraken's "Groote Schouberg," an engraved self-portrait of Adriaen van de Velde, which, as studied by Dr. de Groot, seemed to justify a belief that this man is identical with the Young Man of the Savory Collection.
Vermeer, Phillip Hale, London, 1937
This painting was sold (for the last time?) for 23 100 new french francs in Amsterdam in 1961, and reproduced in Connaissance des Art, n° 117, novembre 1961, p. 112, with the following capton: "Portrait du sacristain Simon Decker, de Delft. toile 45.5 x 56.5 cm., par Jan Vermeer (1632–1675). On trouve, dans cette oeuvre de jeunesse, la palette du peintre dont les toiles les plus caractéristiques, ses scènes d'intérieur, demeurenet rarissimes. Paul Brandt : 6 juin 1961.")
In 1935, this painting was exhibited in Rotterdam as an authentic work Vermeer (cat. no. 79a, Vermeer, oorsprong en invloed. Fabritius, de Hooch, de Witte, 9 July–9 October). The exhibition catalogue states that it was probably painted earlier than Vermeer's signed Christ in the House of Mary and Martha.
It had previously been attributed by some to Georges De La Tour.
M. Jean Decoen, in The Burlington Magazine (September, 1935), reviewing the Boijmans Museum Exhibition, expressed the opinion that it was "a new example of Vermeer's Italianate period ...certainly a Vermeer."
On the other hand, Alfred Scharf wrote in The Connoisseur (November, 1935): "It is surprising to find classed as an early work of Vermeer a picture of Mary Magdalene at the foot of the Cross, from the Collection of Major Fawkes at Otley. Neither in its feeling nor in its technique can I find any relation to Vermeer's work. On the contrary, the classicism of the whole pose, as well as the elegance of the handling, point to the brush of a French Caravaggist, to an artist of tenebrist tendencies such as Robert Tournier."19
After being rejected by Duveen, this work was sold in 1930 as a Vermeer to Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, a noted industrialist and art collector, by the dealer Paul Cassirer, Berlin. The painting was accepted by Eduard Plietzsch. Ary de Vries called it "a fake." The great art connoisseur Max Friedlände accepted the picture and is said to have called it "splendid." Wilhem Martin and Frederik Schmidt-Degener, poet and Rijksmuseum director, concurred.
The painting sometimes today called "The Greta Garbo Vermeer."
It seems disconcerting that such a work with an obviously 20th-century hat might have successfully passed as a Vermeer. Jonathan Lopez notes that the face of the picture bears "a striking resemblance to movie posters for Anna Christie and Wild Orchads—an interesting and apparently effective subliminal appeal to the eyes of the 1930s, since the anachronism blended completely unnoticed with the prevailing tastes of the day."20 Although Van Meegeren had been associated with the picture, the infamous forger name never confessed to have painted it.
Click here to access a large image of the painting at the Frick Digital Image collection.
This picture had been tied the names of various important Dutch painters including Rembrandt and Nicolaes Maes. The Portrait of a Woman in the Szépművészeti Múzeum presents similarities in style and mood and was likewise attributed to Vermeer for a brief period. The painting belonged to the collection of P. Norton in London (1836) and then to the collection of Humphry Ward (1888) in the same city. In 1898, it was sold to the Parisian antique dealer Sedelmyer as a work of Maes. It was resold to in Paris until it was acquired for 19,700 francs as a Nicolaes Maes by the Musée Royal de Beaux-Arts, Brussels in 1900. At the time, the picture boar a signature of Rembrandt which, however, was discovered to be false.
The young man is garbed in black with plain white collar from which a small gold ornament depends. He has a large black hat, high-crowned. He sits in a lion-headed chair, holding his gloves in his hand. In 1905, A. J. Wauters of the Royal de Beaux-Arts believed that the particular mode of painting the lion-headed chair, was so peculiar to Vermeer that it "almost equivalent to a signature."
In 1922, it was reattributed to Vermeer and exhibited in 1935 in Rotterdam under that name (cat. no. 89a, Vermeer, oorsprong en invloed. Fabritius, de Hooch, de Witte, 9 July–9 October).
Some critics perceived a resemblance between the sitter and that of an etching which was then believed to be based on a painting by Vermeer but was later discovered to be based on a self-portrait by Michiel van Musscher.
In 1949, it was catalogued as a Carl Fabritius. The museum currently attributes the painting to Nicolaes Maes.
This painting was sold to Thyssen-Bornemisza as a Vermeer by the art dealer Paul Casssirer, Berlin. It was accepted by Eduard Plietzsch as authentic. Ary de Vries called it "a fake."
This portrait of a woman was attributed to Vermeer by Hofstede de Groot and Eduard Plietzsch. It was exhibited in Rotterdam, 1935 in as a Vermeer (cat. no. 80, Vermeer, oorsprong en invloed. Fabritius, de Hooch, de Witte, 9 July–9 October).
The picture was originally a part of the Esterhazy Collection, Vienna, of 486 pictures which in 1865 was purchased en bloc by the Hungarian government for the National Picture Gallery, Budapest, for 1,300,000 florins. It shows a woman wears a small cap and a large white collar decorated with a knot of yellow silk. Her gown is of dark blue with white cuffs. On her right hand is a glove decked out with yellow ribbons. Her right hand holds a small fan. In the background, at the woman's left, is a table cover, reddish in hue, its pattern worked out in some detail. A chair is vaguely disclosed at her right. All we know of the sitter is that she was unmarried, which may be deduced from the positioning of the figure.
Until the middle of the 1890s it was attributed to Rembrandt although the brush handling and the color are quite different from his.
The attribution to Vermeer was first made by Abraham Bredius, and was afterwards accepted by several writers, although others were doubtful. Hale found it suggestive of Vermeer: "The little bows are of the yellow which Vermeer loved and they are brushed in with the crisp square touch which he frequently used. The general tone is like his, as is the almost startling impression of lifelikeness which the work gives." The work is now believed to be by Willem Drost, an obscure but outstanding pupil of Rembrandt.
In this picture, a young man sits facing to the right. He has a loose cap and wears a gray gown faced with leopard skin. A large open book leans against a globe On a table, covered by a rug, are a compass and other instruments. The background is considerably concealed by a green curtain. A quadrant hangs from the ceiling.
Thorè-Bürger assigned this painting, which was part of the collection of I. Pereire of Paris, to Vermeer and dated it to 1665. When in 1872, Pereire's collection was dispersed, it was sold for 4,000 francs. In 1898 it was auctioned for 8,500 francs in Antwerp (E. Kums) to Vicomte Bus de Gisigneis from Brussels, De Gisigneis' inheritor sold it to the renowned gallery René Gimpel dealer (and the brother-in-law of Joseph Duveen) from Paris. It was sold to E. J. Megnin through the antique dealer Jonas of New York, and is now in the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts
Thorè-Bürger imagined that Vermeer's signature could be read between the words written on the open book. In reality, three signatures were found, one of which covered the signature signaled by Thorè- Bürger. Although the painting had been authenticated by W. Martin (1935) and Wilhem Valentiner (1936) as well as by Eduard Plietzsch and Philip Hale. After the signatures removal, the painting was no longer attributed to Vermeer.
The painting was exhibited in Rotterdam, 1935 as a Vermeer (cat. no. 87, Vermeer, oorsprong en invloed. Fabritius, de Hooch, de Witte, 9 July–9 October). The exhibition notes that it was attributed to Vermeer by Hofstede de Groot
In 1941, the legendary connoisseur Bernard Berenson (1865–1959) wrote a letter to Edward Forbes, the then director of Harvard’s Fogg Museum in Boston, in which he expressed his feelings concerning a portrait of a Man Smoking a Pipe which Forbes had recently acquired for the museum from New York-based art dealer David Koetser. Beronson wrote, "I am not competent to make more than a guess, but I venture to ask you to put your expert on the inquiry whether it is not by Ver Meer van Delft. The reproduction mightily recalls that master. If I could see the original, I might feel less timid about my guess."
According to a label on the reverse, the painting came from the Argyle collection, and had been auctioned in London, and was attributed to Vermeer. It is not known if the well-connected Berenson already knew of this attribution to Vermeer, or merely feigned a brilliant educated guess to Forbes. If not, it is remarkable that the portrait was twice identified as a work by the illustrious artist from Delft. Of course, it should be noted that just four years beforehand, in 1937, the art world had been dazzled by the "discovery" of Vermeer's Supper at Emmaus, the notorious painting hailed as the masterpiece of the Golden Age, which was soon proved to be a fake by the Dutch forger Han van Meegeren (1889–1947). In 1941, the idea of discovering a Vermeer must have been as powerful as ever.
Forbes did as Berenson had suggested and "put an expert on the inquiry," by the name of Jakob Rosenberg, professor of art history at Harvard and specialist in Dutch art. Following a thorough study Rosenberg published his conclusion in an article in the museum’s 1945 Bulletin. After discussing and then dismissing the suggestion that the work could be by Carel Fabritius, Rosenberg attributed the painting to Carel’s younger brother Barent Frabitius (1624–1673), quickly adding that this was ﬁrst suggested by Frits Lugt, a self-taught collector and connoisseur of Dutch drawings and prints, during his visit to the museum. The idea was not so far-fetched, especially as Rosenberg drew attention to the likeness of the sitter with a portrait in Munich, which he attributed to either Carel or Barent (now considered a Self Portrait by Carel), and which, according to him, depicted Barent.
The attribution to Barent did not to last long. In 1953, the Fogg Museum was offered a portrait intitled Artist's Studio, by the Flemish artist Michael Sweerts (1618–1664). The resemblance between the two faces was so strong that it was presumed the Man Smoking a Pipe was by Sweerts as well. Seymour Slive, an eminent scholar of Dutch art, gave his blessing to the attribution in 1958, which lasted until 1990 when Leonard J. Slatkes changed the attribution yet again, this time to the little known Antwerp artist Jan van Dalen (in or before 1620–after 1662), and dated it to c. 1630. Although published again that same year as a Self Portrait by Sweerts in the Great Dutch Paintings from America exhibition catalogue, the painting was listed among the rejected works in the catalogue raisonné on Sweerts that Rolf Kultzen published in 1996. Meanwhile, then Fogg curator Ivan Gaskell re-labeled the work as Sweerts in 1992, with the preﬁx "attributed to." This attribution has been maintained by the museum, and was adopted in the 2002 catalogue to the major Sweerts exhibition in Amsterdam, San Francisco and Hartford.
After a recent discovery in Italy of the a yet unknown prime version of the painting, the Fogg piece is now believed to be an autograph copy by Sweerts.
Vermeer, Phillip Hale, London, 1937
Mr. Henri Marceau, curator of the Johnson Collection, who has made a careful study of the available data regarding both the Johnson and the Iveagh pictures of a guitar player, with particular emphasis on the important fact that the Johnson picture is on canvas whereas the Iveagh picture is on panel, gives (1936) the Johnson picture's history, so far as it is known, as follows:
"Formerly in the possession of Rt. Hon. W. Cowper-Temple, who lent it to the Old Masters Exhibition at Burlington House, London, 1871, (No. 266), where it was catalogued as by 'John Vandermeer van Delft.' The mistake has been made by writers who have dealt with the Iveagh Guitar Player of assuming that the picture lent by Rt. Hon. W. Cowper-Temple to the 1871 Exhibition was the Iveagh picture. The picture lent to that exhibition, however, as the catalogue of the exhibition clearly states, was a canvas, not a panel, and measured—again according to the catalogue—20 inches high by 18 inches wide, roughly the dimensions of the Johnson picture.
Certainly no catalogue compiler's mistake could turn a canvas into a panel. From Rt. Hon. W. Cowper-Temple's possession, it apparently passed into the hands of M. de Gruyter, Amsterdam. Writing in 1896 M. Thorè- Bürge states that this picture was in M. de Gruyter's possession and was for sale. Not being able to buy it himself M. Thorè persuaded Monsieur J. H. C. Cremer, Brussels, to buy it. It then passed, I believe, to Henry L. Bischoffsheim, London and thence, at a date not yet determined, to John G. Johnson, Philadelphia. Our records unfortunately do not give the date of acquisition of the picture. We know that it was in the Collection as early as 1907, but prior to that have no information."
Dr. Wilhem Valentiner, who wrote the catalogue of the Johnson Collection, says, in a letter dated February 28, 1936, regarding the acquisition of the picture by Mr. Johnson: "He paid $10,000 for it and bought it from Sulley in London."
A painting with this title appears, after Vermeer's death, to have been in possession of his widow, and to have been one of two (The Love Letter, Beit Collection, being the other) with which the widow redeemed a debt of 617 florins. Whether this work was the Johnson Guitar Player or the one sometimes so called in the Iveagh Collection or perhaps some other painting, who can say? Further comment on this work will follow in the discussion of the Iveagh picture, the appearance of which, in the Iveagh Bequest in 1927, occasioned a controversy a contribution towards a possible settlement of which may be suggested in a letter written by Mr. Marceau, November 26, 1935, as follows:
"Concerning the pedigree of the Johnson Collection Guitar Player, attributed to Jan Vermeer, there is perhaps no picture in the collection offering greater opportunity for controversy than this one and I may say perhaps no other picture here has given rise to so much conflicting and inaccurate information.
"For many years the Johnson picture was believed to be the one which, together with The Love Letter, was sold by Vermeer's widow to redeem a debt of some 617 florins. It was also identified as having appeared in a sale in Amsterdam in 1696 when a number of other Vermeers were sold. When Lord Iveagh's picture came to the British nation by bequest, it developed that his version of the same subject threw some doubt on the pedigree of the Johnson picture. It is my opinion that this whole question has never been satisfactorily solved.
"We have tentatively assigned the Johnson picture as a contemporary copy of the picture in the Iveagh Collection. Although I have not seen the Iveagh picture a comparison of the photographs would indicate that the English version is the better. There are certain passages in our picture here which are disturbing if they are to be considered as the work of Vermeer.
"It is true, however, that our picture was restored probably prior to Mr. Johnson's purchase of it and some little work has been done on it since he acquired it. This might conceivably account for the thinness of the paint surfaces which are not at all characteristic of Vermeer's method. It has been suggested by one authority that our version dates a generation later than Vermeer but in this I do not agree. It is probably a contemporary work, done perhaps by some one in the close circle of Vermeer and it may even contain some of the painter's own workmanship.
"It is painted on canvas, and is not signed, despite many statements to the contrary."
Hale, himself an accomplished painter, listed five reasons which would cause any observant portrait painter to concede the superiority of the Iveagh head:
1. The background is brought very light against the shadow of the head. This is a motive which Vermeer often used. He painted the wall, in this instance, as it looked by way of contrast instead of figuring out how it ought to be.
2. The arrangement of the hair, which is not unlike that of the Louvre Lace Maker and the Beit Girl at a Spinet, is one which is more usual with Vermeer than is that in the Johnson work, in which it is parted in the middle, braided and wound around the head. The Lady with a Lute, to be sure, in the Metropolitan Museum, has her hair tightly tied up, but there seem to be more of Vermeer's women who have carelessly flowing locks than of those with hair smoothly arranged. It may be added that Mr. Paul Ettinger, writing in the Burlington Magazine, February, 1928, says of the Johnson Guitar Player: "I have always been struck by the style in which the lady's hair is dressed, a style quite unknown in Holland during the seventeenth century."
3. The manner in which a high light on the frame shows through the hair is decidedly a Vermeer touch. No copyist would be likely to think of doing it that way. It could be done only from nature or by closely following a painted work. This point alone seems to prove that the Iveagh painting could not have been copied from the Johnson one; it is humanly possible, though improbable, that some one copying vice versa thought the high light on the frame a false touch and omitted it.
4. The light and shade of the Iveagh head, though not altogether satisfying, is more in Vermeer's manner than that of the Johnson head. The half-tone is manifestly too dark, as, however, it notably is in the Soldier and the Laughing Girl, Frick Collection. The manner of making the nose and forehead is more like Vermeer's particular kind of "wrongness" than is the hesitant fumbling in the modeling of the head of the Johnson picture.
5. Comparison of good photographic reproductions of both pictures gives a sense of a superior crispness of the geometric forms throughout the Iveagh work. In this, as if by an intellectual effort, the precise shape of triangle or oblong of tone has been registered. The same shape, more generalized, with its edges less perceptively studied, will be found to reappear in the Johnson picture. Any who have made copies of, or imitations after, paintings by great masters will recall their own efforts to avoid this ever-present liability to lose the specific quality of the master's "solid geometry."
This painting was sold by antique dealer Bottwiesser, Berlin, to Mr. and Mrs. E. W. Edwards, Cincinnati. It was said to have been owned at one time in Norway.
Wilhem Bode, Max Friedländer and Hofstede de Groot expressed themselves in favor of Vermeer's authorship.
Bode, on July 24, 1924, wrote, "An unquestionable and most characteristic and delightful work by Jan Vermeer of Delft, from his best period."
Friedländer, thought it "agrees entirely in style, color and conception with this world-famous master's work, showing his cool and delightfully pearly lustre."
In September, 1924, De Groot wrote that he considered the painting "an authentic and characteristic work by Johannes Vermeer of Delft."
On 1930 W. R. Valentiner wrote, "This, in my opinion, while it is of the period, is surely not by Vermeer, and I believe that which has been told to me from several sides—that it was cut out of a larger composition which looked very little like Vermeer when it was complete—is most likely true."
Philip Hale included it among the possible works by Vermeer but offered no comment of his own.
This picture comes from Skelmorlie Castle, the collection of W. A. Coats. In 1927, it was exhibited at the Royal Society of Artists, London, as by Vermeer. It appears to resemble the manner of Rudolf de Jongh, Jacob van Loo and Hendrick van der Burch. Wilhem Valentiner attributed it to Van der Burch (1929). In the case that Valentiner's hypothesis were correct, Ludwig Goldscheider presumed it would constitute strong evidence that Vermeer was Van der Burch's apprentice. Although the painting was excluded from Vermeer's oeuvre, Lawrence Gowing observed that the Minuet has "points of resemblance to the Diana [and her Companions." He wrote, "it is not impossible that evidence might emerge which would enable us to connect The Minuet with the unknown juvenilia of Vermeer himself."
The painting was reported for the first time as in the collection of Charles E. Carruthers, Esq., Batheaston, Somerset, England. It was catalogued (No. 62) as a Vermeer at Christie's, London, March 23, 1934, and described under the title "An Auctioned 'Ugly Duckling' becomes a Swan: a Vermeer Revealed," by Mr. Frank Davis in Illustrated London News, April 20, 1935.
Davis reported that this painting was placed on public view, May 1, 1935, at an exhibition of Old Masters' Paintings, Gallery of Mr. A. F. Reyre, 22, Old Bond Street. He adds: "Very careful cleaning, relining and conservative restoration have brought this delicious and sensitive portrait of a girl (possibly one of the painter's own daughters) to its present satisfactory condition."
Writing of this picture in the for June, 1935, Burlington Magazine Dr. Tancred Borenius says: "The character of the craquelure throughout the picture offers in itself a very strong argument in favor of Vermeer's authorship; and the same is true of the handling of the paint, notably in such passages as the lace edging the collar. Apart from these details of technique, the whole scheme of color, its power of luminosity and vivacity of sparkle (in passages such as the ear-rings and the hair-ribbon) strongly suggest no one but Vermeer; and in its utter simplicity of disposition, the picture has a sense of bulk and imposing architectural construction, which point in one direction alone."
On September 27, 1935, Wilhem Valentiner wrote, "I consider The Head of a Girl, now belonging to Reyre in London, an original."
In 1935, this painting was exhibited in Rotterdam as an authentic work Vermeer (cat. no. 89, Vermeer, oorsprong en invloed. Fabritius, de Hooch, de Witte, 9 July–9 October). Hofstede de Groot (1930) believed it was by Vermeer.
The young woman has brown eyes and hair. Under the white collar is a yellowish dress. The blue ribbon on the breast is echoed by a blue hair-ribbon.
This painting was signaled by Charles Eastlake, the director of the London National Gallery, to Thorè- Bürger, Eastlake maintained that, however it was not good enough for the National Gallery. It had been originally signaled to Eastlake by Phillips. Eastlake was struck by the abstract luminosity of the background wall which, had there not been object hanging on the wall, he would have mistaken for an open sky. Waagner was in favor of the attribution to Vermeer. Thorè-Bürger put the picture on the London art market where it was acquired by Henry Ward. Ward then ceded it to a private collector in Geneva. De Vries believed it was painted by an anonymous seventeen-century painter. Only Blum (1946) considered it authentic, likely a painted within a few years of the Diana and her Companions.
Thorè-Bürger saw in upper left-hand object on the wall, Vermeer's typical monogram.
This drawing bears a large monogram on the foot warmer which appears similar to those of Vermeer. There exist no drawings securely attributed to the Delft artist. However, it seems to be drawn with a different colored chalk from the rest of the drawing. It is more likely that it is a work of Cornelis Bega or one of his Harlem contemporaries.
During the initial decades which followed its first publication in 1904, this picture was universally accepted and published as an autograph work by Vermeer. Then, following the dramatic events of the affair of the Van Meegeren forgeries, Ary Bob de Vries, the then Director of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and the recognized leading scholar on Vermeer, expressed doubts about the authenticity of the picture.21
Walter Liedtke, who curated the comprehensive Vermeer and the Delft School exhibition (New York and London in 2001), decided at the very last minute to include in that exhibition as one of the end pieces although it was not included in the catalogue.
Only during the last decade, since the picture was brought back into contact with the scholarly community, has it been examined seriously. Now, after more than 10 years of extensive research by a team of leading scholars, the painting has now been proposed as a secure addition to Vermeer's limited oeuvre. Not all scholars, however, are in agreement.
The following is a brief account of the painting's history.
The recent "discovery" of Saint Praxedis has been staunchly defended by the chief curator of Northern European painting of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Walter Liedtke opined: "In my view the Saint Praxedis attributed to Vermeer (but widely doubted) is probably Florentine." The Mauritshuis' Ben Broos, after reviewing the history of fraud, forgery and incompetent attributions that plagued Vermeer's oeuvre in the 20th century, wrote:
"Oddly enough, history has recently repeated itself. It happened in 1981, when Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. discovered Saint Praxedis. "The moment I saw her something clicked," says Wheelock. "My reaction was immediate. It wasn't the signature. On something like that, you just don't trust the signature …."
And indeed, the signature at lower left in the painting's present state is not authentic, and the translation on the right, "Meer naar Riposo" seems "wishful thinking" at best. In my opinion, Saint Praxedis is the latest wrongly attributed Vermeer of the caliber of Van der Laan and Vrel.
The work is a virtual duplicate of an original 1645 painting of the same name by the Florentine painter, Felice Ficherelli, whose nickname was "il Riposo." Saint Praxedis was a second-century Roman Christian who, along with her sister, Pudentiana, cared for the often-severed bodies of those martyred for their faith. By the late sixteenth century she was especially revered by the Jesuits, an order which lived next door to Vermeer's mother-in-law, Maria Thins, along the Oude Langendijk in Delft.