The Frick Collection
Frick's Vermeers Reunited
Special Installation: Vermeer

Frick’s Vermeers Reunited
Extended through November 23, 2008

From the Permanent Collection
The "Sphinx of Delft": Rediscovering Vermeer at The Frick Collection

In mid-December 1675, Johannes Vermeer, painter and art dealer in the city of Delft, died. A year and a half later, Catharina Bolnes, his widow and the mother of their eleven children, petitioned for bankruptcy to the High Court of Holland and West Friesland. She asserted that her husband not only had been unable to sell any of his own art during the “ruinous and protracted war” — a reference to the French invasion of the Dutch Republic in 1672 — but, to his great financial detriment, he had been “left sitting with the paintings of other masters that he was dealing in.” Vermeer had been without funds of his own and because of the “very great burden” of their many children, at least eight of whom were still underage, he had lapsed into “such decay and decadence,” according to his wife, and had taken his personal troubles “so to heart,” that “he had fallen into a frenzy, [and] in a day and a half he had gone from being healthy to being dead.”

A plausible interpretation of Catharina Bolnes’s sad testimony — as one prominent Vermeer scholar, John Michael Montias, has suggested — is that the artist, panic-stricken over his inability to pay his mounting debts and support his large family, suffered a heart attack or a stroke from which he soon died. The burial of Vermeer, on December 15, 1675, is recorded in the register of Delft’s Oude Kerk (Old Church). He was only forty-three years old.

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