Little Street (Het Straatje) 1657
We are currently remodeling an older home we just purchased in a small bucolic town north of Ft. Worth, Texas, and my palette and style are inspired by one of the Dutch Masters from the 17th century: Johannes Vermeer. Why not the industrial, barn motif with black industrial pipes and shiplap as most are doing in this area? I can only explain using memories of seeing Johannes Vermeer’s Little Street seven years ago.
In October 2010, my friend Michelle and I celebrated our 50th birthdays with a 10 day Eurorail trip across Europe, starting in Amsterdam and ending in Rome. One purpose of this trip was to see Vermeer’s paintings in the Netherlands and Germany.
The first Vermeer we saw was Little Street (Het Straatje, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), a painting of his home, The Delft. I immediately fell in love with this painting as I imagined Vermeer’s world in 17th century Dutch life. I was drawn to this quiet street with its passageways and interior courtyards; these quaint 17th century houses of red bricks facades, wooden doors and lintels, green and tan tiled entry ways and small lead-glass windows. The wooden shutters are closed during the daytime possibly due to impending showers or perhaps for privacy! I love the gables and connecting walls which form a link to the neighboring houses. The open door makes me curious to go in and see the living room with rich tapestries, paintings, furniture, and blue Delft-painted porcelain.
Two children are kneeling in front of the house next to a bench, possibly playing a game on the tiles. One of the girls is wearing a yellow ochre blouse, typical of Vermeer’s palette, complementing the maid’s sleeve. The opaque light mixed with blue and gray clouds makes it impossible to say what time of day it is. Vermeer has also placed several dienstmeisjes (maids, servants) going about their daily chores. One dienstmeisje is sewing in the doorway perhaps a ripped apron or sheet and taking advantage of the daylight to see her work. These domestic activities are all isolated and independent of each other and almost seem pastoral amid urban life.
Our next stop after Amsterdam was to visit The Delft and to experience this distinctive, Dutch haven for ourselves. As we walked down the streets of The Delft after viewing this painting, I felt that I was in Vermeer’s Little Street. The houses have not changed much in the past 400 years, including the triangular architecture, the rich Dutch colors, old wooden shutters and cobblestone walkways. There are very few streets in the Delft so most residents walk or ride bicycles down the narrow walkways. “The Little Street it is a window into a moment, a snapshot of the Netherlands in 17th century during the ‘The Golden Age’ of Dutch society, economy and culture” (De Vere).
I bought a print of Little Street that day, carried it all across Europe, and promptly framed and hung it in our living room when I returned home; henceforth, the inspiration for my decorating palette of Vermeer’s warm, inviting colors in our new home: ivory black, red ochre, verdigris (aqua), and lead-white with accents led-tin yellow.
This has been such an awesome project to bring Vermeer’s painting to life in my home. I will be posting updates of our renovations over the next few weeks.
Copyright 2017 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)