The Kitchen Maid by Vermeer, Jan

The Kitchen Maid
Vermeer, Jan
c. 1658;
Oil on canvas, 45.5 x 41 cm;
Rijksmuseum, AmsterdamWith quiet concentration a woman pours milk into a bowl. With her left
hand she supports the can she is pouring from. Around her are various
objects: a loaf of bread, a stoneware jug, a basket and a brass
bucket. The woman is standing near the window so she can see what she
is doing. The light falls on her hands; her silhouette is dark against
the white wall. There is a fascinating play of light and shadow in
this painting. This is one of Johannes Vermeer's genre pieces in which
he establishes an intensely intimate atmosphere. Although the artist
observes his model from nearby, she continues with her work, totally
unperturbed.Subtle lightingThe lighting in Vermeer's
Milkmaid
is extraordinarily subtle. Light
falls from the left through the window. Beneath and beside the window
it is somewhat shadowy, but the woman is standing in full
brightness. When you look carefully at the painting you see that
Vermeer has introduced tiny points of light all over the canvas: on
the edges of the jug and the bowl, but also on the fastening of her
yellow dress, and on the bread in the basket. Vermeer paid great
attention to details. He has painted tiny rough patches into the
texture of the white plasterwork. Also, he gives careful thought to a
nail set high in the white wall, as well as to the light entering
through a cracked windowpane. The structure of various objects is
expertly rendered: gleaming brass and crumbly bread.Nail with shadowCracked windowpaneBrass bucketTiny points of lightSimplicityClearly, this woman is a servant and no grand lady. Her dress is
simple. The blue skirt is tucked up to save it from getting dirty. She
wears green over-sleeves which partly protect her yellow bodice. On
her head the maid wears a starched cap. She looks strong and
sturdy. Vermeer achieves this effect by painting her from a low
viewpoint. This lends a certain weight and dignity to this simple and
everyday subject - a woman at her work.TemperancePerhaps this painting by Vermeer is an embodiment of the virtue of
Temperance. The image of a woman pouring out of a jug was sometimes
used in this way in the seventeenth century, for example by Jacob de
Gheyn II.Jacob de Gheyn II,
TemperanceSpace and focal pointVermeer has carefully organised the space around the maid. This
appears from the several overpaintings that can be seen using X-ray
and infrared photography. Initially, Vermeer had introduced a painting
behind the woman. There was also a sewing basket on the floor beside
the footwarmer. In the final version of the picture all these objects
were overpainted. The background became less cluttered and the
composition was thereby clearer and stronger. The
Kitchen Maid
is built up along two diagonal lines. They meet by the woman's right
wrist. With this trick of composition Vermeer focused the viewer's
attention on the act of pouring out the milk.X-ray photographs of paintingInfrared photo reveals a basket'Exceptionally good'Vermeer's
Kitchen Maid
was highly appreciated at an early date. In
an auction catalogue of 1696 the painting is described as follows:
A Maid pouring out milk, exceptionally good.
The Milkmaid, as the
painting is commonly called, was sold for 175 guilders at that auction
- a large sum for those days. At the beginning of the twentieth
century the painting arrived in the Rijksmuseum. The Rembrandt Society
bought the work together with 38 other paintings, thereby saving it
for the Dutch public. There was a heated discussion both about the
quality of the 39 paintings as well as the price - 750,000
guilders. Many satirical cartoons were published in this
connection. Today the painting is unquestionably one of the museum's
finest attractions.Newspaper 'Het Vaderland', 9-11-1907: Minister Rink versus Uncle Sam

The Kitchen Maid Vermeer, Jan c. 1658; Oil on canvas, 45.5 x 41 cm; Rijksmuseum, AmsterdamWith quiet concentration a woman pours milk into a bowl. With her left hand she supports the can she is pouring from. Around her are various objects: a loaf of bread, a stoneware jug, a basket and a brass bucket. The woman is standing near the window so she can see what she is doing. The light falls on her hands; her silhouette is dark against the white wall. There is a fascinating play of light and shadow in this painting. This is one of Johannes Vermeer's genre pieces in which he establishes an intensely intimate atmosphere. Although the artist observes his model from nearby, she continues with her work, totally unperturbed.Subtle lightingThe lighting in Vermeer's Milkmaid is extraordinarily subtle. Light falls from the left through the window. Beneath and beside the window it is somewhat shadowy, but the woman is standing in full brightness. When you look carefully at the painting you see that Vermeer has introduced tiny points of light all over the canvas: on the edges of the jug and the bowl, but also on the fastening of her yellow dress, and on the bread in the basket. Vermeer paid great attention to details. He has painted tiny rough patches into the texture of the white plasterwork. Also, he gives careful thought to a nail set high in the white wall, as well as to the light entering through a cracked windowpane. The structure of various objects is expertly rendered: gleaming brass and crumbly bread.Nail with shadowCracked windowpaneBrass bucketTiny points of lightSimplicityClearly, this woman is a servant and no grand lady. Her dress is simple. The blue skirt is tucked up to save it from getting dirty. She wears green over-sleeves which partly protect her yellow bodice. On her head the maid wears a starched cap. She looks strong and sturdy. Vermeer achieves this effect by painting her from a low viewpoint. This lends a certain weight and dignity to this simple and everyday subject - a woman at her work.TemperancePerhaps this painting by Vermeer is an embodiment of the virtue of Temperance. The image of a woman pouring out of a jug was sometimes used in this way in the seventeenth century, for example by Jacob de Gheyn II.Jacob de Gheyn II, TemperanceSpace and focal pointVermeer has carefully organised the space around the maid. This appears from the several overpaintings that can be seen using X-ray and infrared photography. Initially, Vermeer had introduced a painting behind the woman. There was also a sewing basket on the floor beside the footwarmer. In the final version of the picture all these objects were overpainted. The background became less cluttered and the composition was thereby clearer and stronger. The Kitchen Maid is built up along two diagonal lines. They meet by the woman's right wrist. With this trick of composition Vermeer focused the viewer's attention on the act of pouring out the milk.X-ray photographs of paintingInfrared photo reveals a basket'Exceptionally good'Vermeer's Kitchen Maid was highly appreciated at an early date. In an auction catalogue of 1696 the painting is described as follows: A Maid pouring out milk, exceptionally good. The Milkmaid, as the painting is commonly called, was sold for 175 guilders at that auction - a large sum for those days. At the beginning of the twentieth century the painting arrived in the Rijksmuseum. The Rembrandt Society bought the work together with 38 other paintings, thereby saving it for the Dutch public. There was a heated discussion both about the quality of the 39 paintings as well as the price - 750,000 guilders. Many satirical cartoons were published in this connection. Today the painting is unquestionably one of the museum's finest attractions.Newspaper 'Het Vaderland', 9-11-1907: Minister Rink versus Uncle Sam