VERMEER, Johannes
(b. 1632, Delft, d. 1675, Delft)

The Little Street

Oil on canvas, 54,3 x 44 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Signature: Signed left below the window: I V MEER.

Provenance: This is one of the rare paintings that are correctly attributed to the Delft Vermeer since its earliest documentation. It first appeared in the Amsterdam sale of 1696 under no. 32: "A view of a house standing in Delft, by the same; fl 72.10." Later, it was in the estate of Mrs. Croon, widow of G. W. Oosten de Sruyn, 1799. Then it was in the sale Van Oosten de Bruyn, Haarlem, 1800, there bought by H. van Winter for F 1,040. Thence inherited by the Six family; later acquired by H. W. Deterding and presented by him to the Rijksmuseum in 1921.

Although the painting represents in truth two houses and was initially described as one house only, there does not seem to be any doubt about the identification. It is a very simple and appealing painting, which conveys to the viewer a typical aspect of Dutch life as one encountered it in the period. The habitation ensconces and protects its dwellers, while the façades show the viewer nothing but the outside of their intimate existence. This essential simplicity is translated by the artist into a representation of a quiet street imbued with dignity.

Contemporaries like de Hooch and Jan Steen also painted bricks and mortar, but their treatment is close only in appearance. Vermeer, as usual, elevated his aim into regions of philosophy that surpassed the pedestrian attempts of others by his calm majesty and feeling for shared intimacy, of which he alone was capable. If superficially, Vermeer resembles his Delft colleagues, he easily surpasses them by the depth of his mastery of light and mood. The painting must be chronologically ranged rather early, because he was the initiator of the genre in this particular fashion.

An X-ray shows that the artist had initially planned to add a standing girl to the right of the open alleyway, but eliminated her subsequently so as not to disturb the stillness and equilibrium of the composition. There are numerous painted and watercolour copies after this composition.