At the end of the nineteenth century, Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring sold for a pittance, an unknown work by an artist who was only beginning to achieve recognition. Today it is revered as a great masterpiece, so famous that it is recognizable by its title alone, with the name of its maker being almost superfluous. This lecture will examine the reasons this image resonates so profoundly with contemporary audiences.
Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., is Curator of Northern Baroque Painting at the National Gallery of Art. Wheelock has lectured and written extensively on Dutch and Flemish art. His publications include Perspective, Optics, and Delft Artists around 1650 (1977); Jan Vermeer (1981); Vermeer and the Art of Painting (1995); Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century (1995); and Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century (2005). He has also organized major exhibitions, among them, Johannes Vermeer (1995); A Collector's Cabinet (1998); The Public and Private in the Age of Vermeer (2000); Gerrit Dou: Master Painter in the Age of Rembrandt (2000); Gerard ter Borch (2004); Amorous Intrigue and Painterly Refinement: The Art of Frans van Mieris (2006); Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age (2009); Gabriel Metsu, 1629-1667 (2011); Communication: Visualizing the Human Connection in the Age of Vermeer (2011); and Elegance and Refinement: The Still-Life Paintings of Willem van Aelst (2012). The recipient of a numerous honors, Wheelock was appointed Knight Officer in the Order of the Orange-Nassau by the Dutch government (1992); received the Minda de Gunzburg Prize for the best exhibition catalogue of 1995 (Johannes Vermeer); and was named Commander in the Order of Leopold I by the Belgian government (2006).
Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., Curator of Northern Baroque Painting at the National Gallery of Art, describes why painter Johannes Vermeer's masterwork "Girl with a Pearl Earring" only sold for two Dutch guilders when it was first brought to auction.