Vermeer in The Frick Collection

In conjunction with Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals, three paintings by Vermeer in the Frick’s permanent collection have been grouped together in the West Gallery. Henry Clay Frick purchased the pictures between 1901 and 1919. Unlike Girl with a Pearl Earring, the Frick Vermeers are genre scenes. All four works demonstrate the artist’s consummate rendering of light and tantalize us with questions about his subjects’ identities, their relationships, and the circumstances in which they are shown.

Of the thirty-six paintings attributed to Vermeer, twelve reside in American public collections. (This excludes The Concert, formerly in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, but stolen in 1990.) Admired during his lifetime but generally forgotten until the middle of the nineteenth century, Vermeer was rediscovered by the French art critic and dealer Théophile Thoré (1807–1869), who published the first scholarly articles on him and promoted his work among collectors, museums, and connoisseurs.

The Gilded Age was also the golden age of collecting Vermeer in America. Between 1887 and 1919, collectors such as Henry G. Marquand, Benjamin Altman, Henry Clay Frick, and J. Pierpont Morgan each obtained paintings by the “sphinx of Delft” and ensured that his work would eventually enter public institutions. As a result, Vermeer is as well represented in New York as in any other city in the world.

In addition to these works by Vermeer, paintings by other Dutch artists in the Frick’s collection — such as Frans Hals, Rembrandt, and Meyndert Hobbema — are also on view in the West Gallery.

  • Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675)
    Officer and Laughing Girl, c. 1657
    Oil on canvas
    19 7/8 x 18 1/8 in. (50.5 x 46 cm)
    Henry Clay Frick Bequest
    Accession number: 1911.1.127 

    Provenance »

    A gentle radiance illuminates an officer and a modestly dressed young woman engaged in the pleasantries of courtship. Above the girl is a map featuring Holland and West Friesland, which has been variously interpreted. The woman may represent the Netherlands, which like his amiable companion, is under the soldier’s watchful care. Henry Clay Frick acquired this painting in 1911, paying for it in part by returning two portraits by Rembrandt.

  • Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675)
    Girl Interrupted at Her Music, c. 1658–59
    Oil on canvas
    15 1/2 x 17 1/2 in. (39.4 x 44.5 cm)
    Henry Clay Frick Bequest
    Accession number: 1901.1.125 

    Provenance »

    A young woman sitting at a table pauses from her practice to read a sheet of paper and address our intrusive presence. The man standing next to her may be her music teacher or, as the faded image of Cupid behind him suggests, her suitor. Purchased by Henry Clay Frick in 1901, this was the first painting by Vermeer to enter his collection.

  • Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675)
    Mistress and Maid, c. 1666–67
    Oil on canvas
    35 1/2 x 31 in. (90.2 x 78.7 cm)
    Henry Clay Frick Bequest
    Accession number: 1919.1.126

    Provenance »

    A sumptuously attired woman looks up from her writing when a maid with a letter arrives. While the exchange of love letters was a popular theme in Dutch art, the missive’s contents and the mistress’s response are inscrutable. Despite the room’s dark interior, subtle reflections on the glassware reveal Vermeer’s masterful rendering of light. Henry Clay Frick purchased the work in 1919. It was the last painting he would buy before his death later that year.