Influencing Me, Photography

Influencing Me – Johannes Vermeer

Painters to me are very important, we can learn a lot looking at ones from the past.  I also wonder if photography had been available would they have been photographers as well, here is one painter that I think might have been.  I don’t know that Jan Vermeer would have been a photographer exclusively, but I could imagine he would have taken many photos for his painting.  We know that he used new things like the camera obscura, so I don’t think it is implausible to think he would have used a camera.

love_letterI know people will disagree with me, I find there is something very photographic about his images.  He is described as a Dutch Baroque Painter from that period, he was born in 1632 and died 1675.  He lived a short life.

913px-Johannes_Vermeer_-_Het_melkmeisje_-_Google_Art_ProjectThere is something about the ordinary in his work. The way he tried to capture everyday life and the people around him.  In the movie “Girl with a Pearl Earring” they depict him as setting up scenes and putting models in them while he did a lot of the background painting, and looking at his perspective and attention to detail, I suspect that part was very true.  It is believed he used the camera obscura to get the perspective correct.

866px-Girl_with_a_Pearl_EarringIn the movie they say this is the maid, but I don’t think they actually know who it is. We do know that it is one of his most recognisable paintings.  Whether because of the movie or not.  Most people know of this painting.

I think his style is quite unique and there is something about how he paints that really grabs my attention.  I love his subject matter, the ordinary, in so many ways, and it is great for us that someone like him has given that to us, a glimpse into everyday life of the 17th century.

view_of_delftThis sort of scene is something I go out with my camera to try and capture.  The town with the river, and the beautiful light.I don’t know if it is morning or evening, but have always assumed it is meaning.

It is easy for us to sit back and wonder what he would have been had he been born a century or two later, but I feel confident saying, he would have loved photography.  Of course, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t still have painted, there are many painters now that also enjoy photography as well.

I found a great website with lots of information about Vermeer, it is Essential Vermeer.  Now here is a gallery for you to look at.


  1. He does use light in the most vivid way, but the ‘Pearl Earring’ is one of the few where I find the treatment of the face pleasing.

    • Yes, I have to agree Colonialist, he certainly does. I know what you mean about the faces, they do look strange, well most, but I also think it had something to do with painters at that time. Thanks.

  2. You’ve selected a master of the finest order. Vermeer was a creative genius, influencing generations after generations image-makers. All art forms influence and inspire other art forms.

  3. I think you’re probably right, Leanne.
    I can’t imagine his patience and skill – the detail is astounding. The painting of the brick facade especially or the folds in a long skirt or the intricacies of a stained glass window, and the way he captures lighting. Books and letters are placed or read by the light of a window.
    In the second painting in your post, I love that you see her “tan line” – that’s so real.
    Thanks for a wonderful post –

    • I can’t imagine it either Mary, I know I don’t have the patience, well not for painting, I have done it, but it wasn’t quite what I wanted.
      I hadn’t noticed the tan line, so thank you for pointing it out.
      Glad you like the look at Vermeer, always good to take more than one look, thanks Mary.

  4. Good Afternoon: Most of Vermeer’s paintings are so quite in their subject and tone that it always comes as a surprise when they astonish me. No doubt his work can inspire photographers and other artists today. Personally, I have found a great deal of inspiration in the paintings of Edward Hopper. Vonn Scott Bair

    • I love the quietness of his paintings, and I find the same with Hoppers, another artist I love, actually Edward Hopper would be one of my top 4 artists. Thank you.

    • His use of light was quite extraordinary Em, I totally agree with you. It is really how you would expect the light to be.

  5. I enjoyed looking at Vermeer’s work when I visited the art museum in Amsterdam. When looking at works like his I am always grateful to museums and the fact that these works can now be seen by many.

    • I agree Colline, I have even seen a couple, a couple came here a couple of years ago, I think the first one was here. I was so surprised at how small they were. They are always so much better to look at in person.

    • It is an interesting idea, there are possibly a number of the masters that might have been photographers as well if born at another time. No I haven’t seen that, well, not that I am aware of.

  6. Thanks for sharing this with us, Leanne! Yes, I think you’re right, he would have been a photographer. His paintings are incredible, for the reasons you state, and also the depiction of 3 dimensions.

  7. The light in the paintings is just exquisite, and I agree that some look photographic. I get such creative inspiration by going to museums or art exhibits and seeing the work of the artists there.

  8. Excellent, Leanne! I love the way the painter commanded the light in all his works. Thanks so much! :)

  9. Couldn’t agree more, Leanne. His work and light are brilliant. You must be sure to see the documentary; Tim’s Vermeer. Here’s a brief description lifted from the website as well as the link to the page. Check it out!
    Tim Jenison, a Texas based inventor, (Video Toaster, LightWave, TriCaster) attempts to solve one of the greatest mysteries in all art: How did 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer (“Girl with a Pearl Earring”) manage to paint so photo-realistically – 150 years before the invention of photography?

  10. thank you so much for this post… I love Vermeer’s work, when I first came upon his paintings I was very impressed by the way he uses window light in many of his works… loved reading all the comments too… thank you once again, Leanne… great way to start my week… :)

    • I agree, his use of light was so good. I love the colours too. You are welcome and thank you too Alexandra. :)

      • Vermeer – yes a wonderful inspiration to any photographer.
        Rembrandt too has that way of capturing light that us photographers aspire to emulate.
        … and thanks for your kind words about the possible good weather in Melbourne – quite heartening !
        As you are a D800 user have a look at my first review of my new battery grip which I got this morning. Don’t know if that’s the sort of thing you’d use but it really is a great advantage when shooting verticals.

      • I think so too, and I agree about Rembrandt, I might have to look at him some stage, I have looked at lots of his prints.
        You’re welcome David.
        I had one of those battery pack/grips for my D300s, and have thought about getting one for the D800, but at this stage, I am undecided. The bag I often take for the camera is quite small and it would fit in there with it. I haven’t thought about it for a while, so that probably means I don’t really need it.

      • You’re probably right. I notice you do many more horizontal pix than verticals so the secondary shutter release would be of little benefit. I do a lot of portrait shoots so for me it’s very handy.
        But who needs the extra weight !?!
        My camera bag is too heavy anyway !

  11. The book by Tracy Chevalier called The Girl With A Pearl Earring is absolutely wonderful and far better than the movie! It is all about the way of life in Holland (The Netherlands) in 1600. It is fascinating! I had to get a good website of VerMeer’s work so I could see the paintings he was working in in the book.

    And yes, I do think his art looks photographic!

    • That can be a problem when you read the book, I found that when I read the biography on Edward Hopper, though I had purchased before then a catalogue thing on all his works, which helped. I don’t think it ever occured to me that there was book on it, I might have to see if I can get it for my Kindle. Thank you for that.

  12. I think you’re right that Vermeer might’ve been very drawn to photography. He seems so completely fascinated with angles of light and effects of colors and, really, isn’t that what photographers constantly manipulating as well?

    • Yes, it is, I look at his work, and I think they are almost like photographs, and then there is his fascination with new things, like the camera obscura, so I can’t help wondering. I think he would still have painted, but he would have used photography as well. Many artists do both.

    • Light is so important in photography, for all sorts of reasons, and you can see how important it is in his paintings as well. Thank you Chris.

  13. He is/was an extraordinary painter. I agree with you on him maybe even being a photographer if he lived today. He is one of those painters that many of us forget but when you see his work you can’t help but view it more. This perspective, emotions and patience is well known and respected. Out of many of the artists of the past I believe his work is the most relate-able to many of us today.

    • That is interesting what you have said there, the last part, I think his subject matter make it so, there are other artists who did similar, but he is the one well known for it. He did paint what seems to be the everyday. I do think he still would have painted today, but he would have taken photos too. Thank you for your thoughts here.

  14. I can see the influence of the Dutch artists in some of your portrait work – detailed realism but a whole lot more – as if a portion of you are embedded within the capture. The move from fantasy painting (or depictions of religious scenes) to the real work – the ordinary – places Vermeer as the precursor to the likes of photographers such as Brassai, Larry Clark and Sally Mann. Thanks Leanne!

    • I think I need to look at the Dutch Masters a whole lot more. I agree Robert, he was ahead of his time, and it is great to get glimpses of what their lives must have been like. I do like seeing paintings like that. I must admit I really don’t like going to the section of the gallery that has all the pre 16th century paintings, lots of gold, lots of religion. Thanks Robert.

  15. thatnavaword says

    you know i could never appreciate art in high school or at tech, because it was so drilled into me that i need to find a reason behind everything.. that each stroke and splash of colour had to be analyzed… Why couldn’t something just be beautiful? If you can look at a pianting and just feel that it was pretty and you like it? isn’t that enough… lol it’s because i thought like that, that i got average Cgrades for Art History. lol completely off point to what you’re actually talking about.. but im just saying.

    but you’re right, i thin because his work is so ‘simple’, so ‘direct’, so ‘mundane’ in subject.. that it could have been a photograph…

    • I think most people would say that about high school, LOL, though I never did art, I went to a very small one and art wasn’t part of the program. I did do it at Uni though, completely different thing altogether.
      I love his subject matter, so everyday. Thank you.

      • thatnavaword says

        I actually went to an independent art school AFTER school, but lucky for me it counted as one of my subjects, so while everyone else has maths, i had a free period, lol spent in front of the teachers lounge doing homework,

      • So did I, sort of, I went and did a Fine Arts degree, but there was no maths, I realise what you did was different, sounds interesting, did you have to do your homework there?

  16. I didn’t see the movie, but my book group read Girl With Pearl Earring. Fascinating story and re-introduction of the art of painting during this time period.

    • Someone else mentioned the book LB, I might have to check it out. It was a very interesting time that they lived, I find it fascinating, but I wouldn’t want to live back then.

  17. Indeed Leanne, the early Dutch and Flemish painters had a great impact on my photography, make that life!, as well. I would spend hours in the galleries of the Cleveland Museum of Art admiring and studying these painters. The museum was just across the street from my college were I studied engineering. Those were happy days!

    • We don’t have too many of their paintings in our galleries, so I have had to settle for looking in books, I have quite a collection of art books now.

  18. I think you are correct about him being interested in photography had the technology been available. You just have to look at the way he lights his subjects. As photographers we can learn from his studies of still life with people. Lovely gallery of his work.

    • I think so too. I agree with you are saying Rod. I think we can learn a lot from him and other artists of his time.

  19. Maggie Beck says

    In addition to his innovative use of light and his use of perspective, Northern European artists like Vermeer were also notable because they broke from the rigid structure of Renaissance religious art, instead painting everyday life and items. Vermeer was a master of this. I see that influence in your own work, Leanne, and have for a while. You have the ability to photograph something everyday or typical and create a piece that compels the viewer to look deeply – far more deeply than if s/he were to view the building, landscape, or ruin in travels. It is deeply valuable to study the masters of fine art through the centuries, not just the works of photographers, in order to construct our own sense of the world in our photography. Thanks ever so much for posting this.

    • I agree with your comments on Vermeer Maggie, he certainly did that, I am so glad they got away from the religious paintings, I find these so much more interesting, I love seeing how people lived. What a beautiful compliment Maggie, that is wonderful, thank you so much, I love getting compliments like this, really inspires me to keep going.

  20. This is a really nice article! I’m sure he would love the use of optics in the camera and was probably an early adopter of the camera obscurer. David Hockney has spent a lot of time tracing its beginninings and when artists like Vermeer started its use. The documentary is well worth a look. Thanks for a great article.

    • I think he was all those Mike, from what I can gather he loved all those new things to help him get his paintings accurate. I might have to see if I can find the Hockney information. Thanks for that.

  21. What a wonderful influence. The woman with a water pitcher is one of his works that I have always liked very much, probably more than “Pearl Earring”. The latter is winsome and intriguing indeed, but for some reason I find the former more compelling.

    • I like other ones too Jen, I think the girl with the pearl earring is perhaps the most famous because of the movie, but I prefer the ones that give glimpses into what life was like back then.

  22. “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is one of my favorite paintings – met it for the first time at Mauritshuis Gallery in The Hague. I love the Dutch painters, love every detail in the laces … just like photos. I can understand why your are influenced by Vermeer. Beautiful post, Leanne.

    • Glad you enjoyed it Viveka, sounds like it brought back some lovely memories too. I have never see the Girl with a Pearl Earring, I don’t think it has ever come to Australia.

      • It has been in Hague for many years … I don’t think they dare to move it. It’s like Mona-Lisa.
        I hope you have seen the movie about the painting from 2003 with Scarlett Johansson.

      • I did see the movie, I loved it. I don’t think they will either, and I don’t think we would be able to afford the insurance either.

      • Maybe you one day visit the Netherlands. We never know what tomorrow brings.

      • Maybe, I will. We lived in Denmark for 7 months about 20 years ago, and I would love to go back there, take photos this time. I was busy with a baby when we were there. Very true, you never know.

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