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

A Lady and Two Gentlemen

c. 1659
Oil on canvas, 78 x 68 cm
Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig

Signature: Signed left on the window.

Provenance: It is possible that the painting can be identified with one in the Amsterdam sale of 1696, no. 9, there described as "A merry company in a room, vigorous and good, by ditto, fl 73." The suggestion is from A. Blankert. Otherwise, we have the first certain mention of the painting in the Braunschweig catalog, ca. 1711, then again in 1744 and 1776. During the times of Napoleon I, the work was part of his spoils of war, and remained in Paris. Restituted afterward, it was again catalogued by L. Pape in 1846 as by Jacob van der Meer. The attribution to Vermeer van Delft originates with Thoré in 1860.

A young woman wearing an elegant red dress is seated in the foreground turned toward the left and looking half-smilingly at the viewer. It is one of the rare instances when Vermeer animates one of his figures with a semblance of expression. She seems to be courted by a fine gentleman, bent over and encouraging the young lady to take a sip from the wine glass that she holds in her hand. Farther back, another. gentleman sits behind a table featuring an exquisitely painted still life of a silver plate, fruit, and white pitcher. The second male figure sits in a pose reminiscent of the Girl Asleep, apparently befuddled by too much wine. A Man's Portrait in the background may be one of the family portraits mentioned in the inventory of Vermeer's widow in 1676, which was part of his stock as a dealer. As to the coat of arms prominently displayed in the window, it belonged to a former neighbours family that used to live in a house next to the Vermeers.

The painting has been overcleaned, the last time in 1900, and the sitting man in the background was overpainted during the eighteenth century, as comes out of the descriptions of 1744 and 1776. The room where the artist placed the composition resembles others frequently used by him. Patterns, windows, and walls reappear with minor changes. In this respect, Vermeer did not show much originality. His mastery resides in the delicacy of the execution, the use of light, and the grouping of his figures.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 2 minutes):
Franz Schubert: Drinking song from the 16th century D 847, quartet