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

The Concert

Oil on canvas, 69 x 63 cm
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

Signature: Not signed.

Provenance: The first reference to this painting can be found in the sale Johannes Lodewijk Strantwijk, Amsterdam, 1780, where it is already dubbed a work by Jan van der Meer, de Delfze. Subsequently, sale Monsieur van Leyden, Paris, 1804; sale London (Foster), 1835; sale Admiral Lysaght et al., London (Christie), 1860; sale Demidoff, Paris, 1869; sale (heirs) Thoré-Bürger, Paris, 1892; there acquired by Mrs. Isabella Stewart Gardner. The painting was stolen in 1991 and has not been recovered since.

This painting superficially resembles A Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman (Buckingham Palace, London) in that it features the making of music in a domestic environment. But there the likeness stops. The Lady at the Virginals was very rigidly constructed, pruned to the point of abstraction, and allowing the viewer only a glance from afar upon the principal scene. In the Concert, we are again part of the happening, although separated from it by the table covered with the familiar red Oriental rug and the bass viol on the floor.

However, the music-making trio in a compact group presents itself sufficiently close to our vision so that the viewer shares in the earnest concentration of the figures. This slightly removed part of the painting is particularly rich in details, almost pictures within the picture. On the far wall to the right, we find Baburen's Procuress, which was part of Vermeer's stock as an art dealer. To the left is a landscape in the style of Jacob van Ruisdael. The two are linked by the landscape on the raised cover of the clavecin done in the then-fashionable style of the Italianizing Dutch landscape painters such as Jan Both.

For Vermeer, such a crowding of decorative elements is rather unusual, and has therefore encouraged critics to attempt various interpretations of the meaning of the scene. They range from calling it a brothel (de Mirimonde) to a domestic scene with the lady to the right being the personification of temperance (I. L. Moreno)! In any case, the amateur seeking purely aesthetic pleasure will find delight in the perfection of the composition, the delicate execution of the figures, as well as of the paraphernalia, and the masterly use of diffused light enveloping the actors. In this work, Vermeer stands greatly above his contemporaries de Hooch, Jan Steen, Metsu, and many others, in harmony, grandeur, and artistic skill.