Recently I was commissioned to copy Woman Holding a Balance by Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). Vermeer was a Dutch painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life and was perhaps better known for Girl with a Pearl Earring. I was very excited for the opportunity to create this copy as the old masters (particularly the Dutch) and the chiaroscuro style of the 16th century were part of my earliest training and I’m very fond of them. After having completed many commissions in the Impressionist galleries, I welcomed this new challenge.
Several of Vermeer’s masterpieces are on display in an intimate room at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where I have been a copyist for the last five years. Because the room is small, copyists are typically prohibited from working inside and must instead work from memory and photographs.
Woman Holding a Balance takes your breath away as you enter the gallery room. It’s a dark painting with a brilliant focal point: a young girl and her fine fur cloak illuminated by sunlight streaming through a nearby window. The young woman appears to weigh jewels and coins with a hand-held scale. Vermeer positions a painting of the Last Judgment behind her on the wall.
Paintings-within-paintings were a common technique of the period, often serving as vessels for symbolism. Perhaps Vermeer includes the Last Judgment to remind us that just as the young woman weighs her riches, in the end God will weigh our choices in life. Maybe greed and vanity should be avoided.
This copy required many layers of glaze to achieve the right amount of contrast between the darks and lights. Vermeer, having been self-taught and influenced by Caravaggio, probably used the same technique. It was a challenge creating this painting during this summer’s heat and humidity. Each layer took quite a while to dry. However, the painting is now complete and ready for delivery. I hope my patron will be happy with it. I certainly am.
A note to my followers: I am currently working on Farmhouse in Provence after Vincent Van Gogh in the National Gallery of Art. I always look forward to seeing fans. Please contact me through this web-site if you would like to visit.