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.