A major work by Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) is temporarily back in Amsterdam. From 11 March to 1 June 2009, the Rijksmuseum presents his Woman Holding a Balance (c.1664) from the United States. The Rijksmuseum proudly presents this important work alongside four other masterpieces by Vermeer from the museum's own collection. Vermeer did not produce many paintings, so this is a unique moment for the Rijksmuseum as the only museum in Europe to be able to show five works by the renowned artist together. The painting is on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, from which it rarely leaves.
Woman Holding a Balance
Among the items sold in 1696 in the sale of the estate of Jacob Dissius, a bookseller in Delft, were 21 paintings by Johannes Vermeer, a fellow townsman and already in his day a much admired artist. Isaac Rooleeuw, an Amsterdam merchant, managed to snap up two of the artist’s most important and expensive works in the space of five minutes: The Milkmaid and The Woman Holding a Balance. For five years they hung side-by-side at his home in Amsterdam, until Rooleeuw went bankrupt and the paintings were sold. The Woman Holding a Balance remained in private hands in Amsterdam for another century until shortly after 1800 she left the Netherlands and eventually in 1942 found herself via a circuitous route through Europe in Washington’s National Gallery of Art.
For the first time in more than 200 years, The Milkmaid and The Woman Holding a Balance are once again together in Amsterdam, in the Rijksmuseum. Together with The Woman Reading a Letter, they represent the essential Vermeer. In all three works, he presents a domestic scene with a young woman standing in a typical Vermeer room, as she busies herself with some everyday activity, absorbed in thought. While Vermeer manages with his exceptional sense of detail to make us believe that we are watching a slice of real life, each of these scenes is minutely choreographed. He was careful to give each object its place, making clever use of perspective and the soft daylight entering the room from the left.
Vermeer in the Rijksmuseum collection
Since 1921, the Rijksmuseum has been able to show four masterpieces by Johannes Vermeer: The Little Street (c. 1658), The Love Letter (c. 1669-70), The Woman Reading a Letter (c. 1664) and one of Vermeer’s best known works, The Kitchen Maid, or as most people know her, The Milkmaid (c. 1658-60). Over the years, these paintings have become firm favourites alongside Rembrandt’s paintings at the Rijksmuseum, attracting more than a million visitors each year from around the world. As far as we know, Vermeer produced far fewer paintings than his famous contemporary. We know of 34 works by Vermeer, found today for the most part in the world's principal museums.
The Vermeer from the National Gallery of Art in Washington is on loan to the Rijksmuseum from 11 March to 1 June 2009 as part of an annual series of guest appearances by major works at the museum. Each year the Rijksmuseum welcomes an outstanding exhibit from a leading international museum which relates in some way to works in the Rijksmuseum’s own collection. Vermeer’s illustrious predecessors include Catrina Hooghsaet by Rembrandt from Penrhyn Castle in Wales, The Leaping Horse by the 19th-century British artist Constable from the Royal Academy in London, and the Portrait of Jacopo Strada by Titian from Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum.