1. Known as the Sphinx of Delft, very little is known about Vermeer beyond what has been preserved in official documents. He was born and died in Delft, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands at the time. He appears only once to have left the city in his whole life. Proust wrote of him as “an enigma in an epoch in which nothing resembled or explained him.”
2. Only about 35 paintings that can be definitely attributed to Vermeer exist today, a rather small number. There are references to six paintings no longer extant. It is suggested that he may have produced 50 or 60 paintings in 20 years productivity. The paucity of paintings can probably be attributed to a low output caused by his busy life as an art dealer and innkeeper, his failure to sign many paintings and the lack of interest in his work until the 19th centrury.
3. Some 20 of the extant paintings appear to have been painted in the same room, probably the upstairs loft of his family home.
4. In the paintings about 40 women appear altogether, while only 14 men are found, usually in subsidiary roles. None of the paintings of women are portraits as such but, like most of the other paintings, genre interiors. None of the women have been certainly identified.
5. Van Gogh once wrote in a letter that in the pictures that Vermeer “painted, one can find the entire scale of colours; but the use of lemon yellow, pale blue and light grey together is as characteristic of him as the harmony of black, white, grey and pink is of Velázquez.” He also loved to use expensive ultramarine.
6. Vermeer was perhaps one of the least original masters of the glorious Golden Age of Dutch painting. He was neither an inventor nor a precursor of any technique or style, much less a founder of a school or art movement. His name virtually disappeared within a few years of his death. He is considered to be a conservative and unoriginal painter whose paintings evoke calm in those who view them. They are said to “exude silence”. This may be why they have become so popular in recent years.
7. It is sometimes suggested that Vermeer and others used a camera obscura in some paintings. Evidence for its use has been said to exist in paintings such as his view of Delft (where foreground detail is enlarged) and Maid with a milk jug (where tiny specks of light appear in a way similar to the way they would appear through an unfocused lens).
8. Before Vermeer died at the age of 43, the art market had collapsed and he left behind a widow, eight of his 11 children to bring up and a large debt. She was declared bankrupt shortly after his death.
9. At present 14 paintings are in America and 22 in Europe (7 in Holland, 6 in Germany, 4 in London, 2 in Paris, one each in Edinburgh, Dublin and Vienna).
10. The Concert depicts a man and two women playing music. It belongs to the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum in Boston but in March 1990 it was stolen and remains missing. It is thought to be the most valuable unrecovered stolen painting, with a value estimated at over $200 M.