working, probably in Delft, 1654–1662
Of all the minor Dutch painters of the seventeenth century Vrel is one of the most enigmatic The location of his activity can only be surmised through searching far the possible sources of his style, and there is a general agreement that this was probably Delft, although there is no record of him in the town. His few dated pictures range from 1654 to 1662.
Vrel concentrated on two distinctly different types of painting. Half of his pictures -depict rather bare interiors painted in the manner of Pieter Janssens or Pieter de Hooch. He liked to paint bare walls in a manner reminiscent of Vermeer. The other half of his work consists of street scenes where the houses tend to be seen frontally, as in Vermeer's Little Street in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Perhaps one day more information will come to light about this beautiful painter.
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.