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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Woman with a Pearl Necklace” by Johannes Vermeer

Jan Vermeer van Delft - Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace

“Woman with a Pearl Necklace”

by Johannes Vermeer

“Woman with a Pearl Necklace” by Johannes Vermeer portrays a young Dutch woman, dressing with yellow ribbons, pearl earrings, and a pearl necklace. Vermeer depicted many women in similar circumstances in interior domestic scenes. The same woman also appears in The Love Letter and A Lady Writing a Letter.

The young woman is looking at the framed mirror and is dressed in a yellow, fur-trimmed coat. Vermeer used yellow, for the draped curtain and a rich tone of lemon yellow for the woman’s jacket, creating a balance between the two ends of his painting. A significant part of the picture is the blank white wall which allows Vermeer to set a stage for the young woman. With no distraction on the wall behind her, the viewer can focus on the central figure’s expression and actions. The thick blue tablecloth draped over the left side of the painting brings a sharp contrast to the work.

Johannes Vermeer is one of Netherlands’ most prominent Dutch painters. He painted relatively few paintings, most of which had common attributes such as the use of yellow and blue tones, the depiction of women and the depiction of domestic settings. Vermeer offered glimpses into the lives of Holland’s cultured citizens. Although little is known about Vermeer’s life, historians do know of his baptism and experience in Delft where he was raised by a craftsman father and married a Catholic girl by the name of Catherina Bolnes.

Johannes Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675) was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialised in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful painter in his lifetime. However, he was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death.

There are only thirty-four paintings by Vermeer, and they are challenging to date. Vermeer painted mostly domestic interior scenes, and most of his pictures are set in the rooms of his house in Delft. There are similar furniture and decorations in various arrangements in his domestic scenes and his art often portray the same people.  He was not wealthy, as he left his family in debt after his death. He produced relatively few paintings compared to his contemporaries. Art historians mainly overlooked Vermeer’s works for several centuries after his death. However, his reputation has skyrocketed in the last few hundred years, and he is particularly renowned for his excellent treatment and use of light in his work.

Reflections

  • Only 34 Vermeer paintings have survived. Which is your favourite?
  • Eleven of Vermeer’s 36 paintings have pearls in them. He loved to paint them. Can you see why?
  • In the painting Girl with a Pearl Earring, a curious scientist believes Vermeer’s Pearl Earring is not a pearl. He claims it may be a highly reflective shiny metal jewellery piece. What do you think?

Woman with a Pearl Necklace

  • Title:                  Woman with a Pearl Necklace
  • Artist:                Johannes Vermeer
  • Year:                  1662
  • Type:                 Oil on canvas
  • Period:              Dutch Golden Age
  • Dimensions:    Height: 55 cm (21.6 in); Width: 45 cm (17.7 in)
  • Museum:          Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Johannes Vermeer

Explore the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Quotes about Pearls

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“It is the hour of pearl—the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself.”
– John Steinbeck

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“The rarest things in the world, next to a spirit of discernment, are diamonds and pearls.”
– Jean de la Bruyere

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“Whatever pearl you seek, look for the pearl within the pearl!”
– Rumi

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“I favour pearls on screen and in my private life.”
– Grace Kelly

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“A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls.”
– Coco Chanel

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“Men and girls, men and girls: Artificial swine and pearls.”
– Gertrude Stein

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“The Pearl Principle – No inner irritation, No pearl.”
– Surya Das

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“In diving to the bottom of pleasure we bring up more gravel than pearls.”
– Honore de Balzac

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“All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.”
– Federico Fellini

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“I feel undressed if I don’t have my pearls on. My pearls are my security blanket.”
– Sarah Churchill

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“The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides, and in its depths, it has its pearls too.”
– Vincent Van Gogh

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“Pearls are always appropriate.”
– Jackie Kennedy

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“The pearl is the queen of gems and the gem of queens.”
– Anon

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Photo Credit: 1) Johannes Vermeer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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