Maria Vermeer?

January 25th, 2009

According to Benjamin Binstock (Vermeer’s Family Secrets: Genius, Discovery, and the Unknown Apprentice), seven works generally attributed to Johannes Vermeer were painted by the master’s eldest daughter, Maria. Maria also receives the dubious credit of having forged her father’s works as a means to pay the family’s debts to the baker.

For a painter whose entire known oeuvre comprises only 36 paintings, that smacks of a pretty hefty revision.

Although I have not read the book yet, it appears that Binstock bases his conclusions on presumed inconsistencies in technique, materials, artistic level and reinterpretation of known archival documents.

Binstock has jumped into a snake pit to say the very least.

First of all, notwithstanding popular conception and outward appearances, one of the characteristics of Vermeer’s oeuvre is its very “inconsistency,” especially when compared to those of other artists who worked in the same genre mode. A Terborch always looks pretty much like a Terborch, Van Mieris ditto and many Dou’s are perhaps too much like other Dou’s. Many Vermeer’s do not look like each other, not just seven.

A visit to the Rijksmuseum can be instructive. Without previous knowledge, I would have never been able to link more than two of the four Vermeer’s there to the same artist even when they were hung in close proximity. Do the evident differences in style and technique make the rugged Milkmaid any less a Vermeer than the enamel-like perfection of the Love Letter?  Having toiled 30 years day in and day out attempting to emulate the his techniques and outward appearance in my own work, Vermeer’s versatility never ceases to amaze me.

And what to say about the oversized View of Delft, which Thoré-Burger described as “painted with a trowel,” and the miniscule Lacemaker, a work as carefully crafted as the lace the young girl is making?  Two distant and distinct worlds.

BTW, Thoré didn’t know how right he was: laboratory examinations show Vermeer added sand to texturize his paint and evoke the roughness of the ancient constructions of the View. Being a ceaseless experimenter, he once used gold leaf to imitate a metallic fixture and left traces of compass lines in the Procuress around the spherical body the wine jug. Obviously, his use of the camera obscura positions him among the most ductile artists of the time. It is best not to underestimate his depth, technical inventiveness and broadness of artistic vision.

I believe it takes years of close-hand study of the pictures themselves to grasp Vermeer’s inconspicuous  complexity. But the vision we now have of his oeuvre is both logical and consistent as much as possible with such an illusive artist. Please consult the most up-to-date resource in regards, Walter Liedtke ’s brand-new monograph, a monument of scholarship, intuition and rationality, VERMEER: The Complete Paintings.

Lastly, as far as I am aware, no new Vermeer-related documentation has surfaced in years. Binstock must, by force, engage in very serious reshuffling of well-know facts, none of which tell us anything significant about Maria.

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