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

Officer with a Laughing Girl

c. 1657
Oil on canvas, 50,5 x 46 cm
Frick Collection, New York

Signature: Not signed.

Provenance: This painting seems to be identical with the one listed in the Amsterdam sale of 1696 under no. 11: "A soldier with a laughing girl, very beautiful, by ditto, fl 44.10." Subsequently, it appeared at a London sale of 1861 as by Pieter de Hooch, and again under the same attribution at sales in Paris in 1866 and 1881. From there it went, via the collection of Samuel S. Joseph and his widow, to the New York art dealer Knoedler, from whom it was acquired by H. C. Frick in 1911.

While painting with a brush loaded with pigments and applying them in a granulous fashion by thick dabs, Vermeer ingeniously develops his mastery as a luminist. The young woman is bathed in light, which streams in through the half open window to the left, and reflects itself from the cream-coloured background that is enhanced to the left by very thin glazes of slightly pinkish tonalities. Her face, exceptionally conveying expression - joy and laughter - appears framed in a kerchief and the collar of her dress. That part of the figure, especially, reveals itself as a symphony of luminosity, set off by the dark sleeves of the yellow jacket on which glittering highlights dance. In contrast, the soldier in the black hat and red jacket is placed close to the viewer, from whom he turns his back. He is hardly more than a silhouette, but rather overpowering, given the relative importance accorded his bodily appearance.

The nearest foreground - the soldier on his chair and the dark-green part of the table cover - are so strongly enhanced that the use of an optical instrument by Vermeer for the structuring of the composition seems indisputable. We have here the typical effect of the inverted telescope: the foreground standing out in the manner of stage scenery, while the figure of the girl recedes into space. On the back of the wall, we find for the first time a map. This element of decoration reappears frequently in the artist's subsequent works.