Mapping Provenance: Vermeer's "Mistress and Maid"


Painting of two women, one seated at a table, the other handing her a letter
Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632–1675), Mistress and Maid, ca. 1666–67. Oil on canvas, 35 1/2 x 31 in. (90.2 x 78.7 cm). The Frick Collection, New York

Mistress and Maid Travel Itinerary

Origin: Delft (modern-day Netherlands)
Destination: Frick Madison, with stops in Amsterdam, Paris, Marseille, Paris (again), St. Petersburg, London, Berlin, The Hague, and 1 East 70th Street
Duration: ca. 1666–67 to the present
Distance: at least 8,300 miles

Every object has a story to tell. Some are commissioned by princes or prelates or seized in times of turmoil, others are bequeathed to heirs or sold to the highest bidder, and many go on the road for months or years as part of traveling exhibitions. As such, works of art seldom rest in one place, migrating around the world on the winds of taste and commerce. For many of the objects at the Frick—each tracing its own path through time and space—the most recent stop on this journey is Frick Madison, the museum’s temporary home.

In the case of Johannes Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid (ca. 1666–67), the last object acquired by Henry Clay Frick before his death, we know the canvas traveled more than 8,300 miles—or one-third the circumference of the earth—and belonged to at least fifteen owners and dealers on its way from Vermeer’s studio in Delft in the seventeenth century to the second floor of Frick Madison in 2021.

Mapping the Journey

Digital tools allow us to visualize provenance—the history of an object’s previous owners—like never before. The map below charts each known stop in the life of Mistress and Maid, from the Dutch Republic (modern-day Netherlands) all the way to Manhattan. Navigate below to explore the map and read on for details about each segment of the journey.

  1. Delft (ca. 1666−67)
    Vermeer paints Mistress and Maid in his home studio.
     
  2. Amsterdam (by 1696)
    The painting’s first patron is a matter of dispute, but it is likely one of twenty-one Vermeer paintings sold in Amsterdam on May 16, 1696. The sale catalog describes a picture of “a young woman to whom a letter is brought by a maid.” The canvas later belongs to the prosperous Amsterdam gunmaker Jacob Oortman (1661–1738) and his son Hendrik Oortman (1696–1748).
     
  3. Paris (by 1809)
    The canvas is sold for 600 francs on January 16, 1809, to the art dealer Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun (1748–1813), husband of the painter Élisabeth Louise Vigée (1755–1842). The next year, it is sold in Paris for 601 francs, and again in 1818 for 460 francs. The painting enters the collection of the Italian princess Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Sicile (1798–1870), who sells it for 4,015 francs during a sale on April 4–6, 1837—ten times its market value from just nineteen years earlier.
     
  4. Marseille (?)
    The canvas travels to the Provençal city sometime after it is sold in 1818 and before it returns to Paris by 1889. (More research is needed into this chapter of the object’s travels.)
     
  5. Paris (by 1889)
    The painting returns to Paris by July 1, 1889, when the copper magnate Eugène Secrétan (1836–1899) sells it for 75,000 francs to the Parisian gallerist Charles Sedelmeyer (1837–1925), who runs a gallery at 6 rue de la Rochefoucauld.
     
  6. St. Petersburg (?)
    The canvas is sold, via Sedelmeyer’s gallery, to A. Paulovtsof in St. Petersburg.
     
  7. London (by 1905)
    The painting is exhibited by A. J. Sulley & Co. at its gallery on New Bond Street.
     
  8. Berlin (by 1906)
    The painting is acquired by James Simon (1851–1932), a German Jewish textile mogul and favorite of Emperor Wilhelm II.
     
  9. The Hague (before 1919)
    The painting is in the possession of agent Abraham Preyer (1862–1927).
     
  10. 1 East 70th Street, New York City (1919)
    In 1919, Henry Clay Frick acquires Mistress and Maid for a total of $299,989.50 (including costs related to the transaction).
     
  11. Frick Madison (2021)
    Mistress and Maid temporarily moves to Frick Madison, five blocks away from the Frick mansion, where it is installed in a room dedicated to Vermeer on the second floor.
Woman looking at Vermeer’s “Mistress and Maid” in a gallery with gray walls.
Mistress and Maid installed on the second floor of Frick Madison, the most recent stop on the painting’s journey. Photo: Joseph Coscia Jr., 2021

As with many works of art, especially those made long ago, the provenance of this picture is fragmentary and incomplete. This map largely follows Margaret Iacono’s research, published in the 2018 Diptych Series book Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid. For further information, see also the online object record and Walter Liedtke’s Vermeer: The Complete Paintings (2008).


Map icons by Luciano Johnson, The Frick Collection

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