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

Girl with a Red Hat

1668 (?)
Oil on panel, 23 x 18 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Signature: Monogram(?) upper left.

Provenance: The painting is only known since a Paris sale of 1822, in which it was described as a work by Vermeer van Delft. It was sold for 200 French francs. Subsequently: collection Baron Atthalin, Colmar; collection Baron Laurent Atthalin; art gallery Knoedler, New York, 1925; collection Andrew W. Mellon, Washington. Since 1937, in the museum.

In this painting Vermeer repeated the posture of the arm in The Girl with a Flute, though she is seen from the other side, and is therefore leaning on her right arm, against the backrest of a chair decorated with lions' heads and rings. This picture was quite evidently painted with the aid of a camera obscura. That is indicated by his use of pointillism, bright dots of paint and occasional highlights on the folds. The light is falling at an angle from above onto her soft, feathery hat; on the top it is vermilion, and the lower shadowed part is a dark purple colour. The intensity of the light is such that the hat appears, at points, to be transparent. Its broad brim has the effect of casting a shadow over most of her face; only her left cheek, below her eye, is lit. The shading of her eyes, the centre of her face, is quite intentional; the principle of dissimulatio, a mysterious disguise, is being applied here, the intended effect being to heighten our curiosity.

It is assumed by some critics that this painting is not by Vermeer, but a later pasticcio. It, and the Girl with a Flute (in the same museum) are painted on wood, whereas all authentic Vermeer paintings are done on canvas. This work has been painted on an upside-down Rembrandtesque portrait of a man, and pigments considered to be older than the nineteenth century found in this painting come from the original and not from the modern pasticcio.