The Lace Maker (1669-1670)
I saw my first Vermeer in May, 2006, in the Louvre museum.
I was introduced to Johannes Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age through Tracy Chevalier ‘s book Girl with the Pearl Earring in 2004, which I read after seeing the film with Scarlett Johannson and Colin Firth. On her website, Chevalier states that she has always loved Vermeer’s paintings and one of her life goals was to see all 36 of them. “There is so much mystery in each painting, in the women he (Vermeer) depicts, so many stories suggested but not told. I wanted to tell one of them”. And she does, so well.
In her novel, Chevalier recreates 17th century Delft, and details the artistic process and life of this artist. During the climactic scene, I found myself flipping back and forth to the cover to identify the emerging details: “the blue cloth over my forehead, with the yellow piece wound round and round, covering the crown of my head”; “Black, ochre, lead white, lead-tin yellow, ultramarine, red lake”; “a wisp of hair peeking out from the blue cloth under my left eye”. Every brush stroke is dangerous, for a servant has no right to enjoy such intimacy with the master of the house, much less to wear pearl earrings”. By the end of the novel, I had adopted Chevalier’s goal to see as many of Vermeer’s works as possible in my lifetime!(I will be writing about the 23 I have seen in my upcoming posts).
I began to research Vermeer’s 36 known works and, to my delight, discovered that the Louvre had two of them in their permanent collection. Since I had already booked a trip to Paris with my two older daughters for that coming March, I put the Louvre at the top of my list. Much to my dismay and heartbreak, The Lacemaker was on loan to another museum, and all I saw that year was a photocopy taped to the wall in its place. However, Vermeer’s second painting owned by the Louvre, The Astronomer, was there and so my visit was not in vein. (My Impressions of Vermeer’s Astronomer will be my next post)
During my next visit to Paris to celebrate my 45th birthday with my best friend Michelle, I returned to the Louvre to see The Lacemaker and this time, the painting was there. Michelle’s first response after following me through the Louvre, past centuries of art work ,sculptures and treasures was, “We came to see this tiny painting?” It didn’t take her long to figure out why!
The Lacemaker was considered by Renoir to be the most beautiful painting in the world. Van Gogh noted the beauty of its “lemon yellow, pale blue and pearl gray arrangement” in a letter to his friend Emile Bernard (Arasse, 1992).
This young lacemaker is illustrating the domestic virtues of the Delft bourgeoisie. I was first drawn in by her bright yellow dress, the folds on the sleeve, the delicate white floral-laced collar attached with such tiny buttons. She is concentrating so hard on her work: attaching colored threads to the spool with her feminine fingers. She is lost in her own little world, concentrating so intently. I am next drawn to the bright tapestry tablecloth of blues, reds and whites next to her. The small painting is very detailed and sharp in focus and contains many everyday objects that Vermeer repeats in his other works.
According to Antonini, Vermeer has painted on the tablecloth a small Bible or book of prayers which reinforces a moral and religious interpretation (156). In addition, Vermeer is using a theme of “poetry of silence” in this painting. Perhaps this silence and devotion is a nourishment to her soul as viewing Vermeer’s painting was to mine!