For an artist who only produced 35 major art pieces in his life, unmasking a fake Vermeer is quite the discovery in the art world.
Known for the Girl With The Pearl Earring and a myriad of art pieces which quite often depict women doing chores, Johannes Vermeer is perhaps one of the most notorious and celebrated baroque Dutch masters. For years, some of his paintings have been housed by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, following a donation that was carried out back in 1942.
Turns out, some of them were fakes.
It can get tricky with fine art, because although fakes, it is believed that the painting Girl With a Flute may have been painted at Vermeer’s studio, albeit not by the master himself. This discovery follows an in-depth study of six Vermeer artworks, of which three have been confirmed as fully authentic; Woman holding a Balance (circa 1664), A Lady Writing (circa 1665) and Girl with the Red Hat (circa 1669).
This discovery, which essentially answers the question “what on earth makes a Vermeer a Vermeer”, is the overarching theme of an exhibition now available at the National Art Gallery named Vermeer’s Secrets. Throughout meticulous art historians, it is revealed that behind all the mastery, Vermeer was in fact a very solitary and impatient artist. Culminating in a collection of only 35 pieces, for years it all seemed to point to the painter never having any assistants or a studio, but the discovery of Girl With a Flute may hint otherwise. Comes to show, things are never truly as they seem to be at a first glance.
So how exactly did this fake get unmasked? For starters it came down to the paint (as it often does with paintings, duh). Girl With A Flute was composed of coarse paint coat layers, whilst Vermeer preferred finely ground pigments for delicate surface finishings as final coats for his paintings. It was as if the artist had applied all their Vermeer knowledge, but upside down. The use of shadows was also different, appearing more blotchy than the artist’s usuals. Notwithstanding the similarities in technique and style led researchers to believe it was carried out by someone close to the artist, possibly his eldest daughter which at the time would have been around fourteen or fifteen years of age.
The Vermeer exhibition will run from the 8th of October to the 8th of January at the National Gallery.