Portrait of a Young Woman (Vermeer, New York)
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Portrait of a Young Woman (also known as Study of a Young Woman, or Girl with a Veil) is a painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, completed between 1666 and 1667, and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Because of its near-identical size and its proximity in tone and composition, it is often considered to be either a variant or pendant painting (counterpart) of the artist's better-known Girl with a Pearl Earring. The subjects of both paintings wear pearl earrings, have scarves draped over their shoulders, and are shown in front of a plain black background. In addition, it is likely that the creation of both works involved the use of a camera obscura.
The sitter is depicted as having a homely face, with a wide-spaced and flat face, small nose and thin lips. This apparent lack of idealised beauty has led to a general belief that this work was painted on commission, although it is possible that the model was the artist's daughter. The artist probably used a live model but, as with Girl with a Pearl Earring did not create the work as a portrait, but a tronie, a Dutch word meaning "visage" or "expression", a type of Dutch 17th-century picture appreciated for its "unusual costumes, intriguing physiognomies, suggestion of personality, and demonstration of artistic skill". The picture encourages the viewer to be curious about the young woman's thoughts, feelings, or character, something typical in many of Vermeer's paintings.
Girl with a Pearl Earring and Portrait of a Young Woman are unusual for Vermeer in that they lack his usual rich background; instead the girls are framed by a background of deep black. This isolating effect seems to heighten their vulnerability and seeming desire to place trust in the viewer. In 1994, the art historian Edward Snow wrote that Portrait of a Young Woman conveys "the desire for beauty and perfection into a loving acceptance of what is flawed."
Provenance and exhibitions
The painting may have been owned by Pieter Claesz van Ruijven of Delft before 1674, then by his widow, Maria de Knuijt of Delft, until 1681; then their daughter, Magdalena van Ruijven, until 1682; her widow, Jacob Dissius, until 1695. The painting is thought to have been part of the Dissius sale of May 16, 1696 (No. 38, 39 or 40). It probably then belonged to Dr. Luchtmans, who sold it in Rotterdam as part of a sale from April 20-22, 1816 (No. 92). for 3 Dutch guilders (about 30 grams of silver), even then a tiny amount. Prince Auguste Marie Raymond d'Arenberg, of Brussels, owned the painting by 1829, and it remained in his family, in Brussels and Schloss Meppen, from 1833 to the early 1950s. In 1959 (or 1955, according to another source), it was bought in a private sale from the Prince d'Arenberg by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman of New York for a sum estimated at around £400,000. In 1979, the Wrightsmans donated the picture to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in memory of French painter Théodore Rousseau.
The painting was exhibited at the Kuntsthistorische Ausstellung Düsseldorf in 1904; and in In het licht van Vermeer: Vijf eeuwen schilderkunst exhibition at the Mauritshuis in The Hague and at the Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris (Dans la lumière de Vermeer: Cinq siècles de peinture), in 1966.