The Frick Collection
Frick's Vermeers Reunited

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Special Installation: Vermeer

Frick’s Vermeers Reunited
Extended through November 23, 2008

After the deaths of van Ruijven and of his wife, Maria, their picture collection was inherited by their only daughter, Magdalena. When she died in 1682, at the age of twenty-six, the paintings came into the possession of her husband, the Delft bookseller Jacob Abrahamsz. Dissius. An inventory of Dissius’s estate and property, drawn up the year after Magdalena’s death, listed twenty Vermeers, all of which Dissius had presumably inherited from her. According to this document, there were eleven Vermeers in the front room of Dissius’s house on Delft’s Markt (or “Market”); four in the back room; one in the kitchen, which apparently also served as a bedroom; two in a basement room; and two elsewhere in the residence. The subjects of the paintings in the Dissius home are not specified in the 1683 inventory.

Six months after Dissius’s death, in October 1695, an advertisement in an Amsterdam newspaper announced an auction of “excellent artful” works, among them “21 pieces extraordinarily vigorously and delightfully painted by the late J. Vermeer of Delft, representing several compositions, being the best he ever made,” all of which came from Dissius’s collection. It is not known how the number of Vermeers increased from twenty to twenty-one between 1683 and 1695. It is possible that the clerk who drew up the earlier inventory accidentally ascribed one of the paintings to a different artist, or that Dissius added another Vermeer to the collection that he had inherited from his wife.

  Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724-1780), Sheet of Studies Including a Portrait of Mademoiselle Clairon, 1773, Black chalk, brush and colored washes, 22.9 x 16.8 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, Département des Arts graphiques, Livre des Saint-Aubin, fol. 21
  Vermeer, View of Delft, c. 1660–61, oil on canvas, Mauritshuis, The Hague

The so-called Dissius sale, a landmark event in the history of Vermeer’s art, took place in Amsterdam on May 16, 1696. The twenty-one Vermeers brought a total of 1,503 guilders and 10 stuivers, then a substantial sum. Not surprisingly, the top price of 200 guilders was paid for the stunning painting described as “The Town of Delft in perspective, to be seen from the South, by J. van der Meer of Delft”. Notably, the three Vermeers now in the Frick all seem to match descriptions of works that were sold as part of this 1696 auction. Scholars agree that lot 7 in the Dissius sale (“A young lady to whom a letter is brought by a maid”) is most likely the Frick’s Mistress and Maid. It fetched a respectable 70 guilders. Lot 10 (“A gentleman and a young lady making music in a room”), which brought 81 guilders, is probably the Frick’s Girl Interrupted at Her Music. And, finally, lot 11 (“A soldier with a laughing girl, very beautiful”), which went for a relatively low 44 guilders and 10 stuivers, is, in all likelihood, the Frick’s Officer and Laughing Girl.

Who bought Jacob Dissius’s twenty-one Vermeers at the Amsterdam auction remains unknown, although it seems probable that the works fell into many different hands. After the sale, most of the paintings disappeared from view for many decades, some for more than two centuries. Vermeer, too, quickly fell into oblivion; the fact that his oeuvre was small also made it easier for his name to be forgotten. After the Dissius sale, the Frick’s Girl Interrupted at Her Music presumably remained in Vermeer’s native country, where it reappeared more than a century later at an auction in Amsterdam in 1810. It went unsold at 610 guilders. When the Girl Interrupted at Her Music again came on the Amsterdam market, about a year later, it went for a low 399 guilders.

The Frick’s Mistress and Maid also resurfaced in 1810, at a sale in Paris, where it was sold for 610 francs as “A Young Woman Counting with Her Housemaid.” The Frick’s Officer and Laughing Girl did not reappear
until 1861, when it was sold in London for the impressive sum of £87.3. Like many other Vermeers, the picture, by then, had lost its proper attribution. It was listed in the London sale as a work by “De Hooghe,” that is, Pieter de Hooch (1629–1684), the genre painter whose much-sought-after works fetched extremely high prices all across Western Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and whose reputation far surpassed that of his contemporary and fellow townsman Vermeer. About the same time, other works by Vermeer were recorded under the names of seventeenth-century Dutch artists as diverse as Rembrandt and his pupil Govert Flinck; the esteemed painters Gabriel Metsu and Frans van Mieris; and lesser figures, such as Jacob Vrel and Esaias Boursse.

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