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VERMEER : MASTER OF GENRE PAINTINGS

Genre paintings represent scenes or events from everyday life.
An artist like Vermeer would not sit in his studio and imagine the scenes to be painted. Instead he would prefer to sit in a corner where he can see how the men and women behave naturally in their daily life.

Girl with a Blue Skarf, By Vermeer

Vermeer's paintings speak the language of cool observation, involving the viewer in an experience of deepening relation and visual discoveries painted in the acts of daily life. There is no other seventeenth century artist who early in his career employed, in the most lavish way, the exorbitantly expensive pigment lapis lazuli, or natural ultramarine. However no drawings have been positively attributed to Vermeer; nor paintings offer clues to preparatory methods.

Vermeer He must be a spontaneous artists, working on the spot., he painted mostly domestic interior scenes, with the exception of some cityscapes. Unlike modern time, the number of paints available was quite less in 17th century. His colours were of different characteristics in regards to permanence, workability, and drying time. Vermeer used white, red madder, green earth, raw umber and ivory black, yellow ochre and vermilion.

VERMEER: Using Ultramarine and Lapis Lazuli


Genre painters choose the ordinary life of common men as subject. This style of paintings is also called genre scenes or genre views. These paintings are pictorial representations in any of various media that represent scenes or events from everyday life, such as markets, domestic settings, interiors, parties, inn scenes, and street scenes. The artists are free to use their imaginations, as such representations may be realistic, imagined, or romanticized.

The Milk Maid (1658-60)

Look at the dark blue apron where Vermeer had applied the expensive ultramarine. The bread, the basket and the bowl are so vibrant that they seem competing to steal the viewers’ attention. However the Focal point of the painting and the maid is the milk being poured in, by which the artist has painted the most ordinary act of daily life in a poetic statement. The bread, the basket and the bowl are so vibrant that they seem competing to steal the viewers’ attention.

The Artist: Vermeer had painted those moments of life wherein one feels alone and immersed in one’s thoughts. Paintings of the persons doing common acts, like carpentary and messonary, was a marke departure in Western painting. It is because these paintings of common people doing their day to day works were without religious pretext.

Mistress and Maid

Vermeer had painted many paintings taking the letter in centre of depiction. He made the theme around the letter a subject of classical perfection, making the subject so memorable. Here the beauty of a woman is tagged with the reading of letter, also making the subject very feminine. The woman standing in an isolated corner and reading refers to the contents of the letter, too—undoubtedly the message from a beloved one. The placement of the lady near a window and other arrangement of furniture speak about the then living of the upper class of Vermeer’s period, the 18th century. (Images Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Vermeer was a prolific painter who had painted the moments of life when one feels alone and immersed in one’s thoughts. 'Letter' was his favourite subject. He had executed several paintings taking the letter in centre of canvas.

Woman in Blue Reading a Letter

In this painting Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (Oil on canvas, size 46.5 39 cm), a woman is engaged in reading a letter. The subject is very feminine,and the woman standing in interior of the home refers to the contents of the letter, too. It should undoubtedly be a message from her beloved. The placement of the lady near a window and other arrangement of furniture speak about the lifestyle and living of the upper class of Vermeer’s period, the 18th century. Ultramarine and yellow have created a magical effect. About this painting, the critics says that "Nothing has ever been painted that is more noble and refined than this blue young lady". But the 'blue' has suffered due to the flowing of the water in the river of time. However it is said that the varnish is removed and the painted has gone through a renovating touches. It is believed that out of total work of Vermeer, only 36 paintings are surviving. (Image Courtesy Wikimedia commons)

The master painter Vermeer had painted those moments of life wherein one feels alone and immersed in one’s thoughts. Depiction of thoughts, even if involved in domestic work, was his trade mark in genre paintings.

A Woman Asleep/ A Girl Asleep

This painting is Oil on canvas. Presently it is in Metropolitan Museum of Art New York.
The painting of those people who did acts, like milkmaid’s work or carpentry or masonry, was never a subject for the painters who lived in west. Subjects chosen by Vermeer were the marked departure from the main road followed by the other painters. Before him, most of the paintings had a religious feel or pretext at least. Vermeer’s paintings depicting common people doing their day to day works were without religious pretext.
Here in this painting, a woman is shown asleep. From her get up we can assume that she should be a domestic servant. She might be doing hard work, and she might have stolen a recess between her two works. And thus she was so sleeping.

Here we cannot miss to notice the beauty of the colours Vermeer handled. He mainly used white, red madder, green earth, raw umber and ivory black, yellow ochre and vermilion. This painting, Girl Asleep, is the earliest work by Vermeer depicting his favoured choice of subject of one or two figures in a domestic interior.
The overall theme of the painting goes directly back to Rembrandt. The handling of light, as well as deep colouring and application of heavy paste in execution, resembles to the technique of some of Rembrandt's paintings. (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The Art: Here in The Girl Reading a Letter, the theme is a known one, the letter, but Vermeer had added exotic articles around the reading woman. The Turkish carpet, a precious one, painted here is seen in many paintings done by genre painters during the period (17th century). Such carpets were necessary to protect the residents from severe Dutch winter. The presence of curtain gives us the feel that it was put there for protecting the painting itself, as it was customary to guard painting in Dutch house of the time. Look at the handling of light, as well as the deep coloring. All speak about how masterly the painting was executed.
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