03 January 2014
The painting Girl with a Pearl Earring (Dutch: Het Meisje met de Parel) is one ofDutch painter Johannes Vermeer's masterworks and, as the name implies, uses a pearlearring for a focal point. It has been in the collection of the Mauritshuis gallery in The Hague since 1902.
The painting is signed "IVMeer" but not dated. It is unclear whether this work was commissioned, and, if so, by whom. In any case, it is probably not meant as a conventional portrait.
The image is a tronie, the Dutch 17th-century description of a ‘head’ that was not meant to be a portrait. After the most recent restoration of the painting in 1994, the subtle color scheme and the intimacy of the girl’s gaze toward the viewer have been greatly enhanced. During the restoration, it was discovered that the dark background, today somewhat mottled, was initially intended by the painter to be a deep enamel-like green. This effect was produced by applying a thin transparent layer of paint, called a glaze, over the present-day black background. However, the two organic pigments of the green glaze, indigo and weld, have faded.
On the advice of Victor de Stuers, who for years tried to prevent Vermeer's rare works from being sold to parties abroad, Arnoldus Andries des Tombe purchased the work at an auction in The Hague in 1881, for only two guilders and thirty cents. At the time, it was in poor condition. Des Tombe had no heirs and donated this and other paintings to the Mauritshuis in 1902.
In 1937, a very similar painting, Smiling Girl, at the time also thought to be by Vermeer, was donated by collector Andrew W. Mellon to theNational Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Now widely considered to be a fake, the painting was claimed by Vermeer expert Arthur Wheelock in a 1995 study to be by 20th-century artist and forger Theo van Wijngaarden, a friend of Han van Meegeren.
As part of a traveling exhibition while the Mauritshuis undertook construction, in 2012 the painting was exhibited in Japan at the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, and in 2013-2014 the United States, where it was shown at the High Museum in Atlanta, the de Young Museum in San Francisco and in New York City at the Frick Collection. Later in 2014 it was exhibited in Bologna, Italy.