A Mysterious Vermeer


The painting above, titled "Young Woman Seated at a Virginals," was just recently attributed to the famous 17th century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. Only 35 other paintings survive by this artist, and each is enormously valuable. This particular painting was NOT accepted as authentic until recently, partly because it was associated with a forgery scandal in the 1940s, when Han van Meegeren, a gifted Dutch forger, successfully fooled the world with his copies of pictures in the style of Vermeer and other Dutch masters. Only recently have scientific studies shown that the pigments and canvas of this picture match those used by Vermeer.  But wait! Experts still argue that the quality is not up to the standards of a true Vermeer--couldn't someone else have acquired a piece of canvas from Vermeer to create this picture?  Maybe a student? Maybe a fellow artist?

Visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art  to see this picture and make your own decision. The picture will only be there until March. It is on loan by the private collector who purchased the painting--the identity of the buyer has been kept secret.  To decide if this is a real Vermeer, compare this work to Vermeer's other known paintings.  Some of the best can be found in the Louvre (http://www.louvre.fr/louvrea.htm), the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. (http://www.nga.gov/cgi-bin/psearch), and the Metropolitan Museum of New York (http://www.MetMuseum.org). Make the comparisons. What do you think?

The price of $30 million is low for a picture by Vermeer, but the auction house estimate was even lower. What does that mean in solving this mystery?

For anyone interested in Vermeer, see the current movie, Girl with the Pearl Earring.
Much of the script is fiction, but the setting is accurate (17th century Delft in Holland) and the mysterious nature of the movie is just what we might expect of Vermeer.

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