Symposium: Could four Vermeer paintings have been done by the artist’s daughter?

May 2nd, 2013

In his book Vermeer’s Family Secrets (Routledge in 2009), Cooper Union art history professor Benjamin Binstock proposed that four paintings by Vermeer, including the Girl with a Red Hat,  might actually have been painted by his daughter, Maria, who he further identified as the model for the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring. Thus far, however, Binstock’s thesis has been met with silence in the art historical press—itself a fascinating response.  But what if we were to take Binstock’s claims seriously, or at least allow them a fair hearing? How might we go about doing so? Beyond that, what if we in turn were to think about how such theories make their way through the art historical vetting process? How generally does scholarship evaluate such claims, and in turn how ought we evaluate how it does so? And if Binstock were proven right?

An all-day symposium will address Binstock’s unorthodox theory and related questions will be held at the NYU Cantor Film Center, Saturday May 18, 2013 (11:00 a.m. – 6: p.m.). The symposium will attended by Benjamin Binstock, Anthony Grafton, Linda Nochlin, Chuck Close (painter), James Elkins (art historian), Vincent Desiderio, Rachael Cohen and Ulrich Baer.

Entrance is open to the public and free. For further details click here or download the PDF, which features a brief account of Binstock’s theory.

2 Responses to “Symposium: Could four Vermeer paintings have been done by the artist’s daughter?”

  1. James Blake

    Joanthan, do you (or anyone else), think the paintings discussed by Benjamin Binstock as by Maria form a coherent or distinctive group within Vermeer’s oeuvre? That seems the first question to address.
    I thought a lot of his book came across as wild. I was especially amused by his suggestion that the models in “The Procuress” are all Vermeer’s in-laws. Imagine him, as a young man, saying to his mother-in-law: “Right Maria, I want you to play a madame. Your daughter will be one of your prostitutes, while her brother gives her a good grope. I’ll be looking on cheerily.” Somehow I don’t see it! I was more impressed by some of his suggestions, e.g. that the van Baburen copy – if it is a copy – in Amsterdam could be a very early Vermeer – probably unprovable, but worth thinking about.

  2. Jonathan Janson

    James, What to say? They don’t look much like a distinct group but having viewed the painting for endless hours, I would say the Girl with a Red Hat is one of Vermeer’s finest, a little jewel. Yes, that’s a subjective evaluation as much as you want, but from an objective point of view, it is a masterpiece of painting technique. This I say after having attempted to “emulate” Vermeer’s painting technique for 40+ years. Now if we look at how Vermeer himself was still struggling with tone, color, chiaroscuro, brush handling and anatomy in the early Diana and her Companions when he was 21 or 23 (look at the ugly orange drapery of the turned background female (?), it is hard to see how his adolescent daughter could have outdone her father, one of the greatest technicians of European painting. My idea has always been that the worst tool that can be used to comprehend a work of art is via biographical speculation. The life of a painter, or anybody else, is more like a Rorschach ink blot test than a narrative.

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