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Artists Who Died Before 50: Jan Vermeer

Updated on September 1, 2015
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40 years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

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Artists who died too young.

It’s so sad when anyone dies young, but doubly so for artists because there is so much more they could have done to make the world a more beautiful, colorful place. The sad fact is that artists feel deeply, all the highs and all the lows of life. Sometimes I envy people like my mother, who have a very “even keel.” People like that seldom get mad or upset (although when they do, look out). However they also don’t get overly jovial or jocular. Every day is a straight line from sunrise to sunset.

Gratefully, I don’t live like that. I am one of the artists. When I am happy, I am a very ecstatic, giggling fool. And when I’m sad, I am in the dismal dumps. No halfway for me. I feel it all and it often shows up in my work.

That’s what happened to most of these artists who died young. They felt too deeply the pain of life. And some just succumbed to sickness, sadness and drug addiction before their work was done.

I appreciate the stories and struggles that artists have to endure to make the mark in history that some of them have made. Many times it is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I know that it seems like artists who are not very talented or who show no more talent than some others who did not achieve fame did, however it is a lot of chance, happenstance and who you know more than talent most of the time.

Girl Reading a Letter
Girl Reading a Letter | Source

This is the story of Jan Vermeer (1632-1675)

Vermeer was the leading figure of the Delft School, and for sure one of the greatest landscape painters of all time. Works such as “View of the Delft” are considered almost “impressionist” due to the liveliness of his brushwork. He was also a skilled portraitist, as seen in “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”

Born Johannes Reijniersz Vermeer, on October 31, 1632 in Delft, Netherlands, he joined the painter’s guild when he was 20 and served as the dean from 1662 to ’63. He is one of the most highly regarded Dutch artists of all time. His father worked as a tavern keeper and an art merchant, but little is know about Vermeer before the age of 20. There is no record of who he may have apprenticed under or whether he studied art abroad. He likely had a Calvinist upbringing but converted to Catholicism when he married his Catholic wife, Catherina Bolnes.

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Did you see the movie "Girl with a Pearl Earring"?

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Influenced by Rembrandt

Some experts believe that he was influenced by Rembrandt and Caravaggio. I'm not so sure about that. Rembrandt is famous for his paintings with lots of dark obscure backgrounds and light on the subject as if someone just opened a window. His method went to price of paint. The brighter colors were just more expensive than the dark earth-tones so he used the earth-tones liberally and saved the light for the more vital parts. Vermeer spent some money on his vibrant blues, using the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli, and the reds and yellows also. He didn't seem to mind spending money on the colors that would make his paintings glow. His master works focus on domestic life and indoor scenes such as “The Milkmaid.” He had an obvious fascination with light and the way it plays on fabric and the human figure, especially through windows. His works are positively luminous. Because of his realistic renderings of domestic figures, we have an eternal record of both costuming of the middle class of Holland at that time, but also of domestic workers. The amazing thing about this is that portrayal of everyday life was not popular until the Impressionists in the late 1800’s. In my opinion, this makes Vermeer ahead of his time.

One of my favorite paintings, "The Milkmaid"
One of my favorite paintings, "The Milkmaid" | Source

Girl with a Pearl Earring movie

The 1999 novel Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, as well as the 2003 film adaptation of the book made this painting and the artist a household name. Because little is known about Vermeer’s life outside of the facts that he was married, had 11 children and his paintings, the novelist and filmmakers could fill in anything and it would seem plausible. I did enjoy the book and movie, both, but felt a lot of freedom was taken with a man’s motives and methods that may or may not be true. He was not well-known outside his community for many centuries and only achieved fame later. His work was largely overlooked by art historians for two centuries after his death. Today his paintings are hung in many prominent museums around the globe. It is sad that there are only 36 paintings officially attributed to him. Many copied his style and one, Han van Meegeren, a 20th-century Dutch painter became a master forger and sold many “Vermeer” paintings until he was caught and convicted. Because of this many Vermeer paintings have been called into question and be validated by experts.

The Lacemaker
The Lacemaker | Source

Died at 43

The last few years of his life were accompanied by severe financial problems brought on by the Dutch economic disaster after the French invaded the Netherlands. Vermeer’s wife, Catharina attributed his death to stress of financial matters as an artist and as an art dealer. He was only 43 years old.

Woman with Water Pitcher
Woman with Water Pitcher | Source

Camera Obscura?

Many people have been blessed and influenced by Vermeer and his work. There is still question as to whether he used a camera obscura to trace and paint his work onto the canvases he worked on. Some believe it is obvious and that he couldn’t have achieved the photorealism that he did any other way and still others show there is no definitive proof. In a film documentary called Tim’s Vermeer, Tim Jenison went about trying to prove that Vermeer must have used a camera obscura and curved mirror similar in concept to a camera lucida. It is still a controversial subject among artists and art historians. I personally think with or without a camera, his works were masterpieces and to be revered as such.

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Mixing your own paint

One of the things that most impressed me with the book and movie, “Girl with a Pearl Earring” was the depiction of how the paints were ground and mixed. Before the days of convenient tubes of oil paint, artists had to grind raw materials, semi-precious stones and minerals, mix them with oil and water and resin to achieve a smooth paste suitable for painting with. If the mixture was badly mixed, it would chip and flake off the canvas. It was almost an art form in itself to mix the paints properly. I loved that the movie took the time to show that grinding and mixing technique since I have read about it but have never had to experience it.

Officer and Laughing Woman
Officer and Laughing Woman | Source

Have $30 million dollars?

If you are interested, there are many places that sell replicas of Vermeer’s paintings for $30 and up, but the last original Vermeer to sell at auction took over $30 million in 2004. To own one is to have a small fortune hanging on your wall. The auction house wouldn’t reveal the person who bought the Vermeer but it is believed that a casino owner in Las Vegas bought it. It was stated then that it is unlikely that a Vermeer will ever come to market again. Those few who own them want to keep them.

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Creative comments welcome

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Ann, you are so right. We are artists, not accountants. We just don't know how to or want to know how to deal with money and financial problems. But of course, in Vermeer's case, really little is known about his daily life. What little we know we can glean from his paintings and from his few records left behind, like the financial ones. We know he had 11 children but how he managed to care for them is not really known. So you can speculate and Hollywood did with the movie. It was a good movie though. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      I love the effects of light that Vermeer managed to achieve. His subjects were just people going about their ordinary lives and that makes them even more appealing to me.

      Great that you've included so many of the paintings. Such a shame that he died young; financial stress seems to have affected so many artists.

      Well done.

      Ann

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Teaches12345,

      You know, I think the Milkmaid is my favorite too. There is something really sweet and calming about a lady doing domestic chores. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      3 years ago

      I was drawn to the Milkmaid painting. The colors are beautiful and the simple task makes a statement of work and life. Thanks for bringing an awareness of this artists to readers.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      DDE,

      I hope it was too long a learning session. I want to make them short and sweet but informative. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I like the photos and learned so much more from this hub. Definitely a learning lesson.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thanks Larry, but Jan (pronounced at Yan) is short for Johannes. He was a man and husband and father of 11 children in his short time on Earth. But a fabulous artist.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      I wasn't familiar with this artist. Her artwork is awe inspiring.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      BlossomSB,

      Thank you, that's nice. I appreciate your kind thoughts whether we have the buttons or not. Thanks for the comments.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      What a great hub! It has so much information, the images are clear, the colour great and it looks so good. You must have spent a long time collating all this information, downloading the images, etc! Love it! Pity we don't have those buttons to press any more!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      craftybegonia,

      It is true. I hope that's not the price for success as an artist. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • craftybegonia profile image

      craftybegonia 

      3 years ago from Southwestern, United States

      No matter how talented they were, they often lived very difficult and not very long lives. Very instructive. Thanks for sharing.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      MsDora,

      I agree. It is a shame that artists can't see how popular their work will be while they can still enjoy it. I also agree that they seem so real, so immortalized. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 years ago from The Caribbean

      What a pity that the artist even suffered financial stress when his paintings bring in such large amounts now. The paintings you show are so real, and tell his story so well. Thank you.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thanks, Doc. I have always thought that about his art. Maybe that's one of the reasons people think he had to have used a camera obscura, because they are so photo real. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      3 years ago from south Florida

      Fascinating tribute to a remarkable artist, Denise. Vermeer was outstanding at capturing the expressions on the faces of his models. For example, in the first photo in your hub, I was waiting for that young girl to speak - that is how realistic his art was. Thanks for reminding me with this exceptional tribute.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thank you, Rachel. I love them too. There's something very personal about his paintings. They really seem to touch everyone who sees them. He believed his gift was from God... and so it was. thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 

      3 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      What a talent Vermeer had. Truly something given from God. I love vintage paintings like that. Thanks for sharing the information and the pictures.

      Blessings to you.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Thanks Denise, sounds good.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      John,

      Lautrec died before 50 (45 I think), maybe I'll look into him next. Very tragic life. I already know quite a bit about him off the top of my head. He was one of the independently wealthy who didn't have to paint to make a living but did because he loved it. He would slip people like Van Gogh a few dollars so he wouldn't starve. Now I have to go write about him I think. I'll give you the heads up when it's done.

      Many blessings back,

      Denise

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Denise, yes maybe just sharing links would be fine (especially if we happen to write about the same artist). I was thinking of continuing with "Impressionists" etc and the likes of Van Gogh, Degas, Lautrec etc. I was intrigued by your hubs of artists who died before they turned 50 though. Blessings back.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Well, John, that sounds intriguing. I am no one's poet. I know I stink at it, but love to research artists. I already have written about Randolph Caldecott and Beatrix Potter which I'll be publishing tomorrow. They are both children's book illustrators. Caldecott died before he was 40 and Potter started working on books later in life than most artists. My themes are those who started late and those who died young. I'd love sharing links. I'm not sure how else to help.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi again Denise,

      I wrote a hub "The Masterpiece: a chain poetry challenge" https://hubpages.com/literature/The-Masterpiece-a-... and a sequel with Claude Monet as the subject. I have decided to do a series of similar chain poetry challenge hubs based on famous painters. They involve a lot of research as well as writing actual poetry to suit. I was wondering if we could compose linking hubs on the same subject/painter but mine concentrate mainly on the chain poem and just basic info, and yours on detailed info about the artist and his work. Not sure exactly how to work it but if you have any ideas I'd love to hear it. I am going to try and do one such hub per month.

      Cheers,

      John

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Jodah,

      I'm so tickled that you liked it. I do love Vermeer myself. I can appreciate that artists weren't born famous, they had to work and struggle like all of us. I'd love to work with you some how. Let me know what you think.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      In my opinion Vermeer is truly one of the greats. I love so many of his works whereas with many other artists I can only say that about one or two. It isn't just the realism of the way he captured everyday scenes, it is the faces of his subjects that seems to add something special. Great hub. Look forward to more in the series. I wonder if we could do some sort of collaboration (not sure how though) between this and my own "masterpiece" series.

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