Johannes (Jan) Vermeer (1632-1675) was one of the foremost Dutch artists of the 17th century.
He remained relatively obscure during his lifetime and until the end of the nineteenth century, mainly because he produced only about forty-five paintings (of which thirty-six are known today) during his brief lifetime, primarily for a small circle of patrons in Delft. Most Dutch painters turned out hundreds of pictures for a much broader market.
Vermeer’s father trained as a weaver but eventually became an innkeeper and art dealer. The art business exposed Jan to the formal conventions of past and current masters. Due to his father’s debts and death in 1652, Vermeer had to essentially train himself rather than study with a master. During most of his short career, his paintings earned high commissions and he was able to support his large family (he and his wife had eleven children), but the dismal Dutch economy of the early 1670s made his last few years challenging.
Vermeer’s paintings often feature a domestic world occupied mostly by women, whose postures, behavior, and expressions invite close study and sympathy. His works often hint at some connection between a figure and the viewer, making one feel like a voyeur.