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

Young Woman with a Water Jug

Oil on canvas, 45,7 x 40,6 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Signature: Not signed.

Provenance: This is one of Vermeer's paintings that came to light only relatively recently. Blankert attempts to identify it with an entry in the Robert Vernon collection from 1838, where the ascription was to Metsu. This work was subsequently sold in the Vernon sale from 1877, again as a Metsu. It is by no means certain that this painting was identical with the one that was sold by the London dealer Colnaghi to Lord Powerscrout for 600 guineas and was exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, 1878, with for the first time the attribution to Jan van der Meer of Delft. It then passed into the hands of another London art dealer, Thomas Agnew, and finally the Paris art dealer Ch. Pillet, who sold it to Henry G. Marquand in 1887 for 800 U.S. dollars as a work by Pieter de Hooch. Marquand gave it to the museum in 1888. It was thus the first painting by Vermeer to enter an American public collection.

The perfect balance of the composition, the cool clarity of the light, and the silvery tones of blue and gray combine to make this closely studied view of an interior a classic work by Vermeer. It is characteristic of his early maturity and dates from the beginning of the 1660s.

The composition is simple: a young woman standing in the corner of a room, turned to the left, opening a window with her right hand and holding in her left hand a brass water jug. The jug is placed on a bowl of the same material, standing with some other paraphernalia on a table covered with a red Oriental rug. The whole appears as a symphony in yellow and blue; standing out against the white headdress and large collar worn by the young woman. The background is light, in imitation of Carel Fabritius. A map animates the right corner of the wall. The very simplicity and Oriental stillness of the model make this work one of the most significant compositions by the master. There is light, grace, and distinction here, a tendency toward abstraction that characterizes the master's maturity, and a delicacy in the execution that accompanies his evolution from:the early works toward a more artful manner of pictorial expression.