To whom it may concern

January 10th, 2010

My Essential Vermeer website gets a pretty lot of traffic, naturally, considering it is dedicated to a single fine artist. It is sobering, but not altogether surprising, to know that any second-tier Hollywood actress, NBA player or recent video game generates infinitely more web traffic than Vermeer, Rembrandt  and  Leonardo da Vinci combined.

To whom it may concern, below is a breakdown of all 37 paintings by Vermeer with the number of page views during December, a slow month. I doubt you could call it a popularity contest in the strictest sense; many people come to study the paintings they need to understand rather than the ones they love.

However, most works are there where I would have expected.  Girl with a Pearl Earring has simply had too much good press not to be number one. The Milkmaid, as it has done for more than 300 years, marvels anyone who has ever seen it whether one knows it is a Vermeer or not.  The Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window comes in a comfortable third perhaps more for its captivating  image than for the way it is painted. Odd I would say, is the appearance of the Frick Mistress and Maid near the top. Vermeer specialists rarely cast more than a sidelong glance at it because, perhaps, from an iconographical standpoint, there is not a real lot to talk about.

Frankly, I am a bit surprised that the mesmerizing Woman in Blue Reading a Letter and iconic Little Street are stuck midway down the list. As expected, the two London virginal pictures, much fussed over by critics, lack popular appeal. The Lacemaker, once the artist’s most recognizable image, has fallen from the collective conscience down to 26. Even the newly attributed  and still unfamiliar A Young Woman Seated at the Virginal , now in a New York Private collection, places a bit higher.

I dutifully accept popular verdict  except for the Woman with a Lute, almost last. While I admit the canvas seriously lacks nuance (due its near disastrous state of conservation), it nonetheless overwhelms me every I have the privilege of seeing it again. I find the unspeakable delicacy of the lute player  ever more touching each time I find her still tucked away, even pampered, within  one of Vermeer’s boldest compositions.

  1. Girl with a Pearl Earring  – 3,892
  2. The Milkmaid – 2,481
  3. Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window  –  2,058
  4. Girl with a Wine Glass – 1,623
  5. Mistress and Maid – 1,589
  6. Woman with a Pearl Necklace – 1,524
  7. The Astronomer – 1,513
  8. Woman with a Water Pitcher – 1,477
  9. The Lover Letter – 1,473
  10. A Lady Writing – 1,465
  11. The Art of Painting – 1,459
  12. The Geographer – 1,410
  13. The Concert – 1,377
  14. View of Delft – 1,331
  15. Officer and Laughing Girl – 1,326
  16. St Praxedis – 1,316
  17. Woman in Blue Reading a Letter – 1,301
  18. The Procuress – 1,276
  19. The Little Street – 1,253
  20. Girl with a Red Hat – 1,181
  21. The Music Lesson  – 1,172
  22. Diana and her Companions  – 1,158
  23. A Young Woman Seated at the Virginal – 1,131
  24. Girl Interrupted in her Music – 1,131
  25. Woman Holding a Balance – 1,121
  26. The Lacemaker – 1,041
  27. Christ in the House of Martha and Mary – 1,015
  28. Allegory of Faith – 960
  29. Lady Wring a Letter with her Maid – 958
  30. Guitar Player – 955
  31. Maid Asleep – 924
  32. A Lady Standing at the Virginals – 890
  33. A Lady Seated at the Virginals – 918
  34. Study of a Young Woman – 913
  35. Woman with a Lute  – 832
  36. Girl with a Flute – 798
  37. The Glass of Wine – 788

5 Responses to “To whom it may concern”

  1. ARech

    No doubt, the number of visits to the single painting’s entry has various reasons, and popularity is only one of them.
    Apart from the interest for ones own studies further reasons may to be found first in the painting’s travelling: for instance the Love Letter has been more abroad than at home during the last years, so it is not surprising that it has gained far more public attention (and a higher rank in this list) than its ‘sister’ paintings constantly staying in Amsterdam (Woman in Blue Reading a Letter and Little Street, the popular Milkmaid not to be considered here).

    Furthermore it seems to me that the attention (and here the number of readers’ visits) may also depend on the status of the museum the painting is housed, and certainly on its hanging there. I could imagine the cheerful Guitar Player (only no. 30) would get a far better place in the list if the painting would be housed in one of the major museums, either in Europe or in America. Who would think of paying a visit to Kenwood House when only on a short trip to London…?

    Third, it may not really come as a surprise that those of Vermeer’s paintings of undoubtedly touching effect and delicacy, like the aforementioned Woman in Blue Reading a Letter or the Lute Player (whose really poor condition may certainly add to its lesser attraction), but with only occasional reference in scientific literature, have difficulties in finding public attention and thus the right appreciation they certainly deserve.

    I bet the list will read different next year same time…

  2. Romy S

    Jonathan-

    I had the privilege of being present at the Sotheby’s 2004 auction of the recently attributed Vermeer painting entitled “Young Woman Seated at the Virginals” which sold for 16.2M GBP (appox. $32M USD). I just posted a blog post about my first-hand account of the auction at http://outsidethelane.blogspot.com/.

    I thought you might enjoy reading my account. Love your blog and Vermeer website.

    Best regards,

    Romy S

  3. michael white

    Dear ARech,

    on my last two trips to London, both short, I did manage to fit in trips to Kenwood . . . what a marvelous way to spend half a day! true, it’s not my very favorite Vermeer, but the Rembrandt alone is worth the trip. And the view of the heath!

  4. ARech

    Dear Michael White,

    I am very glad you took the chance of visiting Kenwood and had such an enrichig stay there. My remark was by far not meant to disqualify a rather minor museum like Kenwood, quite the contrary. But it is common experience that the majority of visitors will prefer the major museums, even if they only have a few hours in the city. I assume that most of them even don’t know of the existence of such treasures like Kenwood. So there are rather those preparing themselves who find the way to these often so wonderful minor museums. Pity indeed, but then one has a bit more silence to study and enjoy the paintings and the atmosphere in general…

    ARech

  5. Forearm Tattoos

    Great blog – I love Vermeer. I will check out the Woman with a Lute (not familiar). Personally, my top three would have been rather predicatably: Girl with the Pearl Earing (1), The Milkmaid (2), View over Delft (3).

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