One of the greatest Dutch artists in history focused on a specific type of genre painting and mastered it in the 17th century.
Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) lived during the Dutch Golden Age, a period when the Dutch Republic was one of the leading nations in the world in many fields.
The paintings in Vermeer’s oeuvre are usually pretty small, and it provides a glimpse into the daily life of people living during his time.
In this article, you’ll discover some of the most interesting facts about The Wine Glass by Johannes Vermeer, one of the Baroque artist’s first major works.
1. It was completed when the artist was in his late twenties
Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch artist from Delft who spent his entire work dedicating himself to his art.
He became a member of the Guild of Saint Luke in his native city in 1653 and this was also the year that he married a Catholic woman named Catharina Bolenes.
It’s fair to conclude that he was already a respected painter in his home city in the 1650s although his production was rather low. He painted very slowly and only completed 2 or 3 works a year at max.
He found a patron in 1657 named Pieter van Ruijven (1624-1675), something that allowed him to earn enough from his paintings.
He completed The Wine Glass a couple of years later, probably between 1658 and 1660. The work isn’t dated and this date is based on stylistic elements.
2. It depicts a man and a woman drinking wine in Vermeer’s house
The main motif in Vermeer’s career was to depict domestic scenes. He moved into the large house of his mother-in-law who was fairly wealthy and this shows in his works.
The setting is that of an upper-class household in the 17th century, exemplified by the wine pitcher, the stained glass window, the rug on the table, and the clothes that both the man and girl wear.
Like in most of his works, the light source comes from the left and magnificently illuminates certain elements such as the chair and the wine pitcher.
3. It was probably inspired by an outdoor scene of one of Vermeer’s colleagues
Painting a company that got together while eating or drinking was a fairly common subject during the Dutch Golden Age.
Vermeer didn’t invent this type of genre painting but it’s fair to say that he was one of the few who really mastered it.
Another notable member of what is now referred to as the “Delft School” was Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684). He was slightly older than Vermeer and the younger artist was certainly influenced by him.
It’s likely that Vermeer got the inspiration to depict a number of people drinking wine from a painting by Pieter de Hooch titled “A Dutch Courtyard.” This was completed in 1657, just a few years earlier.
The drinking woman is accompanied by two men and a little girl in a much less luxurious setting than in Vermeer’s work.
4. It’s considered to be one of Vermeer’s first mature works
The second half of the 1650s marks Vermeer’s artistic breakthrough. He was still only in his twenties but already developed his mature style during this period.
He started focusing meticulously on the details inside the room to make it come to life. Several elements such as the wine pitcher and glass, as well as the stained glass window and table rug, are recurring elements.
The Wine Glass is one of the first paintings that highlight Vermeer’s mastery of light, something he has been praised for ever since his oeuvre was rediscovered in the 19th century.
5. The work bears a striking resemblance to another of his paintings
Many paintings by Vermeer take place in the same room inside the house of his mother-in-law Maria Thins (1593-1680), a woman who was from a rich family in Gouda.
She also owned the objects that were depicted by the artist, including several paintings and maps hanging on the back wall.
This room was most likely also the artist’s studio which was located at the front of the house on the Oude Langendijk in Delft on the second floor.
Around the same time, Vermeer completed a very similar painting titled “The Girl with the Wine Glass” (1659-1660). The composition is very similar but the girl stares at the viewer and is accompanied by two men.
6. The work is praised for the level of detail but isn’t one of his best works
The artist developed his mature style but was still experimenting with the social interaction between the people in the room.
He didn’t really get the hang of it yet because the relationship between the man and woman is unclear. It’s likely, however, that it depicts some sort of courtship scene in which the man offers the girl some wine.
The man is grabbing the pitcher as he sees that the girl just finished the wine. Is he trying to get the girl drunk? Probably, but the clumsy way that Vermeer painted this scene means it’s not one of his best works.
He did get better at it, though, and both “The Girl with the Wine Glass” and “Girl Interrupted at her Music” solve this issue by having the girl stare directly at the viewer.
7. How big is The Wine Glass by Johannes Vermeer?
Although Vermeer produced several medium-sized paintings in his career, he worked too slowly to complete many of these and mainly stuck to smaller works.
The Wine Glass by Johannes Vermeer is a small oil on canvas painting that has dimensions of 67.7 x 79.6 centimeters (26.6 x 31.3 inches).
8. Where is the painting located today?
Like most of Vermeer’s works, the history of The Wine Glass has been rather obscure.
It has been exhibited many times, including for the first time at the Winter Exhibition of the Royal Academy in London in 1881, not too long after Vermeer’s oeuvre was rediscovered.
Today, you can admire the painting at the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, one of the main museums of Berlin State Museums (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin).