View of Houses in Delft, known as "The Little Street" by Vermeer, Jan

View of Houses in Delft, known as "The Little Street"
Vermeer, Jan
c. 1658;
Oil on canvas, 54.3 x 44 cm;
Rijksmuseum, AmsterdamIn a cobblestone street are two houses with a gate opening onto the
passageway between them. A woman sits in an open doorway, busy sewing;
two children are playing on the stoop. Soapy water is washing down a
small runnel between the paving stones - probably the woman in the
passageway has just scrubbed her part of the stoop. Vermeer has
recorded this everyday scene with apparent casualness. Although
world-famous, not much is known about Vermeer's
Little Street.
In fact
the original location has never been identified, and indeed may never
have existed. But more significant is the atmosphere of the
picture. The women are diligently employed while the children are
absorbed at play. The scene emanates tranquillity and security.Highly suggestiveVermeer has achieved a great deal with limited means. A detail from
the bricks above the gateway illustrates how suggestive his method of
painting is. In some places the canvas shows through the paint but
together the touches of color combine to create the impression of
solid brick. Elsewhere the paint has been thickly applied, as on the
shutters in front of the windows and the white plastered portions of
the wall. Here the surface of the paint appears flaked, like plaster,
while on the shutters it is smooth as if painted on wood.Wall above the gate: dabs of paintThe chalk is almost tangibly flakedSmoothly painted shuttersThe gutterProbably the water in the gutter runs out into a ditch or canal, in
front of the picture. Without the diagonal of the gutter the picture
would have less depth. And with the gutter Vermeer draws the viewer's
attention to the woman in the passageway. Clearly, the artist found
this through-view important; as an overpainting shows. Originally
there was also a second woman in the gateway, but because her figure
blocked the view through the passageway, Vermeer painted her
out. Vermeer would have seen similar through-views by his colleague
and townsman,
Pieter de Hooch.
However, only rarely did De Hooch
employ this technique as successfully as Vermeer has here.Woman seated: X-ray photoDe Hooch: slightly less subtleDe Hooch's woman, window and wallSombre yet freshIn this picture the sky is cloudy and the colours are muted. Besides
brown and red there are touches of blue in the sky, the garments of
the woman who is furthest away, and the plant at the left. When first
painted the ivy was greener, but the yellow pigment in the paint has
faded. Nevertheless, the painting appears fresh, thanks to the white
plasterwork. Against this, the figures stand out in pleasing
contrast. At the left is Vermeer's signature - also on a white
wall. The figures appear convincingly real, even though, like the
bricks or the cobblestones, they are not rendered in detail.Scrubbing woman with a touch of blueBlue-green ivy; signatureWoman sewing in doorwayExpensive StreetWhen Vermeer died he left no more than 34 paintings. These found their
way into private collections and were 'forgotten'. In the nineteenth
century Vermeer was rediscovered. His work soon became popular and
prices for his paintings soared. The
Little Street was in the
collection of Professor Jan Six at the start of the twentieth
century. Six wanted a million guilders (!) for the painting, but in
the end he received just 625,000. It was bought by a wealthy
industrialist who snatched it from under the noses of French
buyers. In 1921 he presented it to the Rijksmuseum. The
Little Street
now hangs near the three other Vermeers in the museum: the
Kitchen Maid, the
Woman Reading a Letter and the
Love Letter.Credits:
The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

View of Houses in Delft, known as "The Little Street" Vermeer, Jan c. 1658; Oil on canvas, 54.3 x 44 cm; Rijksmuseum, AmsterdamIn a cobblestone street are two houses with a gate opening onto the passageway between them. A woman sits in an open doorway, busy sewing; two children are playing on the stoop. Soapy water is washing down a small runnel between the paving stones - probably the woman in the passageway has just scrubbed her part of the stoop. Vermeer has recorded this everyday scene with apparent casualness. Although world-famous, not much is known about Vermeer's Little Street. In fact the original location has never been identified, and indeed may never have existed. But more significant is the atmosphere of the picture. The women are diligently employed while the children are absorbed at play. The scene emanates tranquillity and security.Highly suggestiveVermeer has achieved a great deal with limited means. A detail from the bricks above the gateway illustrates how suggestive his method of painting is. In some places the canvas shows through the paint but together the touches of color combine to create the impression of solid brick. Elsewhere the paint has been thickly applied, as on the shutters in front of the windows and the white plastered portions of the wall. Here the surface of the paint appears flaked, like plaster, while on the shutters it is smooth as if painted on wood.Wall above the gate: dabs of paintThe chalk is almost tangibly flakedSmoothly painted shuttersThe gutterProbably the water in the gutter runs out into a ditch or canal, in front of the picture. Without the diagonal of the gutter the picture would have less depth. And with the gutter Vermeer draws the viewer's attention to the woman in the passageway. Clearly, the artist found this through-view important; as an overpainting shows. Originally there was also a second woman in the gateway, but because her figure blocked the view through the passageway, Vermeer painted her out. Vermeer would have seen similar through-views by his colleague and townsman, Pieter de Hooch. However, only rarely did De Hooch employ this technique as successfully as Vermeer has here.Woman seated: X-ray photoDe Hooch: slightly less subtleDe Hooch's woman, window and wallSombre yet freshIn this picture the sky is cloudy and the colours are muted. Besides brown and red there are touches of blue in the sky, the garments of the woman who is furthest away, and the plant at the left. When first painted the ivy was greener, but the yellow pigment in the paint has faded. Nevertheless, the painting appears fresh, thanks to the white plasterwork. Against this, the figures stand out in pleasing contrast. At the left is Vermeer's signature - also on a white wall. The figures appear convincingly real, even though, like the bricks or the cobblestones, they are not rendered in detail.Scrubbing woman with a touch of blueBlue-green ivy; signatureWoman sewing in doorwayExpensive StreetWhen Vermeer died he left no more than 34 paintings. These found their way into private collections and were 'forgotten'. In the nineteenth century Vermeer was rediscovered. His work soon became popular and prices for his paintings soared. The Little Street was in the collection of Professor Jan Six at the start of the twentieth century. Six wanted a million guilders (!) for the painting, but in the end he received just 625,000. It was bought by a wealthy industrialist who snatched it from under the noses of French buyers. In 1921 he presented it to the Rijksmuseum. The Little Street now hangs near the three other Vermeers in the museum: the Kitchen Maid, the Woman Reading a Letter and the Love Letter.Credits: The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.