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

The Guitar Player

c. 1672
Oil on canvas, 53 x 46,3 cm
Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House, London

Signature: Signed on the right on the lower edge of the curtain.

Provenance: Mentioned in 1676 as the property of Vermeer's widow and given by her as security to the baker van Buyten, together with Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid (Beit Art Collection, Blessington, Ireland), for a debt of fl 617. Subsequent sale Amsterdam, 1696, no. 4: "A young lady playing the guitar, very good, of the same; fl 70." Collection 2d Viscount Palmerston; collection W. Cowper-Temple at Broadland, later Baron Mount-Temple, 1871; art gallery Thos. Agnew, London, 1888. Acquired by the Earl Iveagh, 1889.

An old copy, canvas, 48,7 x 41,2 cm, is in the Museum of Art, Philadelphia. The only difference separating this copy from the Kenwood, London, version is the coiffure of the guitar player, whose style points toward c. 1700. It would be interesting to clean this painting and possibly ascertain, by X-rays, whether the original coiffure is still extant and was overpainted at a later date. Otherwise, both paintings are almost equal as far as pictorial quality is concerned.

Together with the Lacemaker (Louvre, Paris), this painting constitutes one of the best achievements by Vermeer, and certainly a towering success in his late maturity. By now, the artist had attained the mastery of light and colours, together with complete freedom of expressing himself technically by means of looser brushstrokes that are no longer bound to specifics of texture or materials. The model is not drawn inward but looks to the outside world in full communication and radiance of her pleasure simply to make music. Never was Vermeer more able to liberate himself from all constraints and convey his artistic viewpoint in a more masterly manner. The landscape on the back wall seems to be painted in the style of Hackaert.