Vermeer Travels

Vermeer's Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window

Why Visit the Real Paintings?

One of the most rewarding life pleasures is the direct experience of a master painting. Reproductions, no matter how technically advanced, cannot substitute the impact of the real, hand-crafted object. A painting's colors are more nuanced, the darks passages much deeper and the lights more powerful. A uniquely textured surface lends each work material richness and physical presence that can not be captured with ink on paper or illuminated pixels. Even the work's dimensions, which tells us how the picture can be viewed, is lost in book-size reproduction or on the computer monitor. The frame itself plays a vital role by isolating the work from its environment allowing us to focus our attention on the finely calibrated aesthetic relationships.

According to modern scholars, there are 36 or 37 authentic Vermeer paintings known today distributed over two continents Fourteen are in America while the remaining twenty-two are in Europe.

Click here to see the geographical distribution of Vermeer's paintings.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Traveling to See the Vermeers

Unfortunately, not all Vermeer paintings are within reach even to the most dedicated museum goer. The Concert was stolen in 1994 and has never been recovered. The Saint Praxedis, not accepted by many art historians, belongs to a private collector and is no longer on public display. The same goes for the recently attributed A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals although this work has been occasionally on view at major art centers after its reattribution a few years ago. Lastly, the Queen’s The Music Lesson is generally visible to the public only for short periods, usually during the summer months or special exhibitions. The remaining Vermeer paintings are housed in public or private art collections normally displayed five days a week throughout the year except for holidays.

However, even the works in public museums and collections are not always on view. They frequently are shown in special exhibitions throughout the world and at times undergo restoration which last months.

Essential Vermeer Travel Checklist

  1. If you are traveling specifically to view one or more paintings by Vermeer, consult the index of the EV Complete Vermeer Catalogue to determine if the work is presently on display where it is permanently housed.
  2. Contact the museum to confirm that the painting(s) you wish to see are on display and no changes in opening schedule or special holidays are expected during those days you are planning to visit. The email and telephone numbers of all the collections are listed in the EV section of Vermeer Museums.
  3. Remember, special Vermeer exhibitions or special exhibitions with one or more works by Vermeer may be major cultural events. In this event, crowds may be expected to make viewing and ticketing particularly problematic. Details of upcoming special events and exhibitions related to Vermeer's art can be consulted by clicking here.

Travel Risks

Globe with traveling Vermeer paintings

Follwoing the stellar rise of Vermeer’s name in the twentieth century, many of the artist’s paintings have trekked all over the globe. While these sorties are aimed at increasing public awareness and appreciation of Vermeer’s art, a significant number of specialist believe that the risks inherent in such lengthy travels expose the paintings to various stresses that can compromise their fragile structure as well as the unforeseeable dangers of long distance flights. Moreover, large scale exhibitions are vital for the museums prosperity and thus they are normally reluctant to publicly air problems resulting from loans to other institutions.

The map to the left shows all the travels that Vermeer’s paintings will have made from 2003 to 2012 racking up about 300,000 miles of air flight. Some have traveled the same route more than once.

Most of the flight miles were over the Atlantic Ocean or Siberia. The circumference of the earth is 24,901.55 miles while an average trip to the moon is 238,857 miles.

Vermeer is known to have made only a single trip to Amsterdam late in his life, about 66 miles as the crow flies from his hometown Delft.