Girl with the Red Hat is one of Johannes Vermeer’s smallest works, and it is painted on panel rather than on his customary canvas. The girl has turned in her chair and interacts with the viewer through her direct gaze. Girl with the Red Hat is portrayed with unusual spontaneity and informality. The artist’s exquisite use of color is this painting’s most striking characteristic, for both its compositional and its psychological effects. Vermeer concentrated the two major colors in two distinct areas: a vibrant red for the hat and a sumptuous blue for the robe; he then used the intensity of the white cravat to unify the whole.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Vermeer also was an art dealer in Delft. There is no documentation of his artistic training or apprenticeship, but in 1653 he became a master in the Saint Luke’s Guild in Delft; he would serve as head of that guild four times in the 1660s and 1670s. Although he was well regarded in his lifetime, he was heavily in debt when he died in 1675. Only in the late nineteenth century did Vermeer achieve widespread fame for his intimate genre scenes and quiet cityscapes.
Girl with the Red Hat has a curious status among Vermeer scholars. Although this small panel painting is widely loved and admired, its attribution to Vermeer has been doubted, and even rejected, by some.
The attribution of Girl with the Red Hat to Vermeer has been doubted by Frithjof van Thienen, Jan Vermeer of Delft (New York, 1949), 23. The painting was rejected by P. T. A. Swillens, Johannes Vermeer: Painter of Delft, 1632–1675 (Utrecht, 1950), 65; Albert Blankert, Rob Ruurs, and Willem L. van de Watering, Johannes Vermeer van Delft 1632–1675 (Utrecht, 1975; English ed., Oxford, 1978), 167–172; Yvonne Brentjens, “Twee meisjes van Vermeer in Washington,” Tableau 7 (February 1985): 54–58; and Gilles Aillaud, Albert Blankert, and John Michael Montias, Vermeer (Paris, 1986), 200–201. For reactions to Blankert’s rejection of this painting, see the reviews by Christopher Brown (Christopher Brown, review of Albert Blankert, Rob Ruurs, and Willem L. van de Watering, Johannes Vermeer van Delft 1632–1675 [Utrecht, 1975], Simiolus 9 : 56–58) and Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. (Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., review of Albert Blankert, Rob Ruurs, and Willem L. van de Watering, Johannes Vermeer van Delft 1632–1675 [Utrecht, 1975], Art Bulletin 59 [September 1977]: 439–441). Benjamin Binstock has attributed Girl with a Red Hat to Vermeer’s daughter Maria Vermeer; see Benjamin Binstock, Vermeer's Family Secrets: Genius, Discovery, and the Unknown Apprentice (New York, 2009), 247–257, 253 repro.
For a comparative analysis of the paintings, see the entry on
Although only a portion of the tapestry is visible, it appears that two rather large-scale figures are depicted behind the girl. The patterned vertical strip on the right is probably the outer border. A. M. Louise E. Muler-Erkelens, keeper of textiles, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, relates this format to late sixteenth-century tapestries of the southern Netherlands. She also notes that the tapestries in Vermeer’s paintings belong to the same period (see her letter of May 7, 1974, to A. B. de Vries, copy in NGA curatorial files).
The pose of a girl looking over her shoulder at the viewer is commonly found in Vermeer’s oeuvre, although in no other instance does she lean an arm on the back of a chair. Nevertheless, similar poses are found in the works of Vermeer’s contemporaries.
The first art historian to note this discrepancy was Reginald Howard Wilenski, An Introduction to Dutch Art (New York, 1929), 284–285. He hypothesized that the peculiar arrangement of the finials arose as a result of Vermeer’s use of a mirror. His reconstruction of Vermeer’s painting procedure, however, is untenable.
The questions raised by the position of the chair and its spatial relationship to the girl have bothered observers of the painting in the past.
Albert Blankert, Rob Ruurs, and Willem L. van de Watering, Johannes Vermeer van Delft 1632-1675 (Utrecht, 1975; English ed., Oxford, 1978), 109, in particular, emphasizes the position of the finials in his arguments against the attribution of the painting to Vermeer.
The idea that Vermeer adjusted forms in such a manner is incompatible with those who believe that he totally and faithfully recorded his physical environment. P. T. A. Swillens, Johannes Vermeer: Painter of Delft, 1632–1675 (Utrecht, 1950), was the foremost proponent of this interpretation of Vermeer’s manner of painting. This attitude also underlies the writings about Vermeer by Albert Blankert.
Despite similarities in the way Vermeer adjusted his forms for compositional emphasis, the
The literature on Vermeer and the camera obscura is extensive. See in particular Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Jan Vermeer (New York, 1981), note 41.
The hypothesis that Vermeer might have used a camera obscura while painting the Girl with the Red Hat was convincingly argued by Charles Seymour.
See Charles Seymour Jr., “Dark Chamber and Light-Filled Room: Vermeer and the Camera Obscura,” Art Bulletin 46 (September 1964): 323– 331.
He may also have recognized that the peculiarly soft quality of these unfocused highlights would beautifully express the luminosity of pearls. Thus even in paintings such as
One of the many misconceptions about Vermeer’s painting style that has affected theories regarding his use of the camera obscura, including that of Seymour, is that Vermeer was a realist in the strictest sense, that his paintings faithfully record models, rooms, and furnishings he saw before him.
This misconception lies at the basis of the interpretation of Vermeer’s use of the camera obscura advanced by Daniel E. Fink, “Vermeer’s Use of the Camera Obscura: A Comprehensive Study,” Art Bulletin 53 (December 1971): 493–505. See Charles Seymour Jr., “Dark Chamber and Light-Filled Room: Vermeer and the Camera Obscura,” Art Bulletin 46 (September 1964): 323– 331.
As suggested by Charles Seymour Jr., “Dark Chamber and Light-Filled Room: Vermeer and the Camera Obscura,” Art Bulletin 46 (September 1964): 323– 331.
Vermeer’s handling of diffused highlights in his paintings, including View of Delft (Mauritshuis, The Hague)
See inventory number 92, from Mauritshuis, The Hague.
The actual manner in which he applied highlights is comparable to that seen in The Art of Painting, c. 1667 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).
See inventory number 9128, c. 1667, from Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Vermeer usually painted on canvas, and it is interesting to speculate on the rationale behind his decision to paint on panel in this particular instance.
The only other panel painting attributed to Vermeer is the National Gallery of Art’s
Vermeer selected for his painting a panel that had already been used. The image of an unfinished, bust-length portrait of a man with a wide-brimmed hat lies under Girl with the Red Hat. It is visible in the X-radiograph [see
A photographic or digital image analysis method that visually records an object's ability to absorb or transmit x-rays. The differential absorption pattern is useful for examining an object's internal structure as well as for comparing the variation in pigment types.
A photographic or digital image analysis method which captures the absorption/emission characteristics of reflected infrared radiation. The absorption of infrared wavelengths varies for different pigments, so the resultant image can help distinguish the pigments that have been used in the painting or underdrawing.
Although it is impossible to attribute a painting to an artist solely on the basis of an X-radiograph, certain characteristics of the handling of the paint in the underlying image are remarkably similar to those seen in paintings by
Oil on panel, 38.5 x 31 cm, illustrated in Christopher Brown, Carel Fabritius (Oxford, 1981), pl. 3.
John Michael Montias, Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History (Princeton, 1989), 339, doc. 364. The term tronie had various meanings in the seventeenth century, but generally it denoted a small, relatively inexpensive bust-length figure study. Although such studies could have been commissioned portraits, most were probably figure types, or character studies, produced for the open market.
For another small painting in the National Gallery of Art collection where one artist has reused a panel previously painted by another artist by turning the image 180 degrees, see Follower of Rembrandt van Rijn,
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
upper center of tapestry in ligature: IVM
Marks and Labels
Possibly Pieter Claesz van Ruijven [1624-1674], Delft; possibly by inheritance to his wife, Maria de Knuijt [d. 1681]; possibly by inheritance to her daughter, Magdalena van Ruijven [1655-1682], Delft; possibly by inheritance to her husband, Jacob Abrahamsz. Dissius [1653-1695], Delft; (sale, Amsterdam, 16 May 1696, probably no. 39 or 40). Lafontaine collection, Paris; (his sale, Hôtel de Bouillon, Paris, 10-12 December 1822 [postponed from 27-29 November], no. 28). Baron Louis Marie Baptiste Atthalin [1784-1856], Colmar; by inheritance to his nephew and adopted son, Louis Marie Félix Laurent-Atthalin [1818-1893], Colmar and Paris; by inheritance to his son, Baron Gaston Marie Laurent-Atthelin [1848-1912], Paris and Château des Moussets, Limay, Seine-et-Oise; by inheritance to his wife, Baroness Marguerite Chaperon Laurent-Atthalin [1854-1931], Paris; (M. Knoedler & Co., New York and London); sold November 1925 to Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 30 March 1932 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.
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- Wright, Christopher. Vermeer. Revised ed. London, 2005: 50-52, color repro.
- Dolnick, Edward. The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century. New York, 2008: 107, 134.
- Liedtke, Walter A. Vermeer: the complete paintings. Ghent, 2008: no. 24, 136-139, color repro.
- Lopez, Jonathan. The man who made Vermeers: unvarnishing the legend of master forger Han van Meegeren. Orlando, 2008: 53, 55, 104, 175.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "Die Malkunst." In Vermeer, die Malkunst: Spurensicherung an einem Meisterwerk = Vermeer, the Art of Painting: Scrutiny of a Picture. Edited by Sabine Haag, Elke Oberthaler and Sabine Pénot. Catalog in German, essays also translated into English. Exh. cat. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, 2010: 32-33 (German), fig. 6, 268 (English).
- Henderson, Jasper and Victor Schiferli. Vermeer: The Life and Work of a Master. Amsterdam, 2011: 56-57, color ill.
- Humphries, Oscar, ed. “Listings: Agenda, 7.” Apollo 176, no. 602 (October 2012): 25, color repro.
- Percival, Melissa. Fragonard and the Fantasy Figure: Painting the Imagination. Burlington, Vt., 2012: 58, fig. 2.7.
- Tummers, Anna. The Eye of the Connoisseur: Authenticating Paintings by Rembrandt and His Contemporaries. Amsterdam, 2012: 28, 29, 30, color fig. 9.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr., Walter A. Liedtke, and Sandrina Bandera Bistoletti. Vermeer: il secolo d'oro dell'arte olandese. Exh. cat. Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome. Milan, 2012: no. 49, 216-217, color repro.
- Krempel, León. "Allegorische Tronie-Paare bei Johannes Vermeer." in Tronies: das Gesicht in der frühen Neuzeit. Edited by Dagmar Hirschfelder and León Krempel. Berlin, 2014: 97-107, 112, 122, color pl. 9, as "Ecclesia."
The support is a single wood plank, probably oak, with a vertical grain. A cradle, including a wooden collar around all four sides of the panel, was attached before the painting entered the collection. A partially completed painting exists underneath the present composition oriented 180 degrees with respect to the girl. The X-radiograph reveals the head-and-shoulders portrait of a man wearing a white kerchief around his neck and a button on his garment. Infrared reflectography at 1.1 to 2.5 microns shows a cape across his shoulder, a broad-brimmed hat, locks of long curling hair, and vigorous brushwork in the background.
The panel was initially prepared with a light tan double ground. The male bust was executed in a dark brown painted sketch, before flesh tones were applied to the face and white to the kerchief. The portrait of the young girl was painted directly over the underlying composition, with the exception of the area of the man’s kerchief, which Vermeer apparently toned down with a brown paint.
The paint used to model the girl was applied with smoothly blended strokes. Layered applications of paint of varying transparencies and thicknesses, often blended wet-into-wet, produced soft contours and diffused lighting effects. The paint in the white kerchief around the girl’s neck has been scraped back to expose darker paint below.
The painting was treated in 1994 to remove discolored varnish and inpaint. The treatment revealed the painting to be in excellent condition with just a few minor losses along the edges. The painting had been treated previously in 1933, probably by Louis de Wild, and in 1942 by Frank Sullivan.
 Infrared reflectography was performed with a Santa Barbara focal plane array InSb camera fitted with H, J, and K astronomy filters.
 The lower ground consists of calcium carbonate, the upper ground of white lead lightly toned with earth and black (see Melanie Gifford, "Painting Light: Recent Observations on Vermeer's Technique," in Vermeer Studies, ed. Ivan Gaskell and Michiel Jonker [Washington, D.C., 1998], 185–199).
Related IconClass Terms
- looking over the shoulder
- expressive conotations
- camera obscura
- historical person +Carel Fabritius