Dandelion Art – Week 14
Updated: May 13
Once a week we take a painting, or piece of sculpture, that interests us, tell you a bit about it and hope it sparks something with you and your families. We would love to hear your recommendations.
In our final choice of art that we can't wait to see again when museums and galleries reopen their doors next week, we have chosen a glorious Vermeer which is part of the beautiful collection at Kenwood House.
The Guitar Player by Johannes Vermeer
Kenwood House, 1672
'The Guitar Player' painted in 1672 is one of Vermeer's greatest works, albeit that he painted relatively few pictures, and one of his last. It was stolen from Kenwood House in 1974 but later recovered and returned.
Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) was born in Delft and lived there his entire life. We know relatively little about him, but we do know that his father was a silk weaver who also owned a tavern and an art dealership which Vermeer inherited from him in 1652 after his death. Vermeer and his wife had eleven children (eight of whom survived to adulthood) which must have resulted in some financial pressure. There are no records of the artist ever having been apprenticed (unusual for an artist of the Dutch Golden Age); no surviving etchings or drawings and no under-drawings on his paintings. Nonetheless, we can only surmise that he must have got good very quickly.
Vermeer was a successful Dutch 'genre painter' – and as that a master of painting Dutch interiors. Dutch houses typically had an area at the back of the house where women reigned supreme and Dutch genre painting depicts what went on in these private areas of the home.
The Guitar Player
It has been mooted that the girl in this painting is Vermeer's daughter – but there is no definite evidence to confirm this. The first thing to notice about this picture is that it is asymmetrical and has an unusual composition – the subject is painted so close up that her right elbow is cropped off. The girl sits to the left and is balanced by the books on the right. The large book could well be a bible. And one of the books has a slip of paper in it as a bookmark which immediately catches our eye.
The light in this painting unusually for Vermeer comes from the right (the only other painting of his where this is the case is 'The Lacemaker') and highlights the girl's fingers, the gold on the sound hole on her ten string Spanish guitar and is reflected off her white ermine The girl's dress and hairstyle reflect the fashion of the wealthy Dutch of that period. Vermeer paints subjects in the same yellow morning jacket with ermine in several other paintings. It is notable that her hair and ringlets are echoed by the picture behind depicting a pastoral scene. The overall image is of a cultured young, well-behaved woman in the middle of playing a chord on her guitar – we can tell this because the strings are blurred. Vermeer has brilliantly captured a moment of sound in time, as well as a moment in time.
But who is she looking at? We will never know for sure – as always with Vermeer there is a mystery.
You will be able to see The Guitar Player again at Kenwood House from Wednesday 19th May. Book your tickets on the English Heritage website. Admission is free.
Anya Waddington 12 May 2021