Tracy Chevalier. Questions about Girl with a Pearl Earing.

On Thursday we talk about Tracy Chevalier and we read a short interview. I thought that it was really interesting how a writer can write such a brilliant story taking as inspiration sorce a painting. For that reason, I decided to search more information about Tracy Checalier. So, there is an interviw about her novel Girl with a Pearl Earing which I think that can be quite interesting.

Questions about Girl with a Pearl Earing

  • What inspired you to write about the girl in Vermeer’s painting?

    I have had a copy of that painting for a long time. I love it because it is so beautiful and mysterious. The expression on the girl’s face is ambiguous – sometimes she looks happy, sometimes sad, sometimes innocent, sometimes seductive. I was always curious about what she was thinking, and one day I wondered what Vermeer did to her to make her look like that. I began to understand that the painting is more than a picture of the girl, but also a portrait of the relationship between the painter and the model. I thought there must be a story behind her look, but when I found out that we don’t know who the model for the painting was, I realized I would have to make up the story myself.
  • Why did you make the girl a servant?

    In the painting the girl’s clothes are very plain compared to other women Vermeer painted, and yet the pearl is clearly luxurious. I was fascinated by that contrast, and it seemed clear to me that the pearl was not hers. At the same time, I also felt she knew Vermeer well, as her gaze is very direct and knowing. Some historians think she was his eldest daughter, but I don’t think that’s a look a daughter would give her father – it’s too seductive. So I thought, Who else would be close to him but not related? And I thought of a servant.
  • How much of the story is true? Did Griet really exist?

    Griet did not exist. We don’t know who the girl in the painting is, nor any of the other models for Vermeer’s works. So I made up that she was his servant. But I tried to stay true to the facts that we do know about his life. Vermeer did grow up in Delft and lived there all his life. He was Protestant but married a Catholic woman, Catharina Bolnes, and probably converted. They had 11 children, and another 4 who died in infancy. They lived with his mother-in-law Maria Thins in the Catholic quarter of town. Though the house doesn’t exist any more, there is a list of its contents that was attached to his will, so we know what rooms were in the house, what furniture they had and what else they owned. They had a servant called Tanneke. Vermeer was an art dealer and there were paintings all over the walls. He was in debt quite a lot. It is likely that he painted very slowly. Antony van Leeuwenhoek, inventor of the microscope and much interested in lenses and other optical devices, including the camera obscura, was the executor of Vermeer’s will and very likely a friend.Other than that, there is so much we don’t know that I had to fill in. Primarily we don’t know what he was like as a person. There are no letters to or from him, and few references to him in writings of the time. That is what I had to create: was he a nice man? Was he quiet or a talker? Did he prefer to be around men or women? Did he spend a lot of time at home or go out drinking every night? Was he a gossip or loyal to his friends? Which was more important to him: family or work? All these questions I had to answer myself.

    In the end I based his character on what I saw as a contradiction in his life: he painted such quiet, calm paintings and yet he had 11 children! How could he have managed that, other than to feel ruthless about his paintings to the point of separating out his working life from his daily life. Hence he cut off his studio from his wife and family, and that caused the problems I wrote about.

  • How long did it take you to write it?

    It took me eight months to research and write the book. That is very quick for me, but on the day I began research I discovered that I was pregnant, and I decided that I must finish the book before the baby came – I wasn’t sure if my brain would remain the same once I had a baby!I also wanted the book to feel as if it were written in one sitting (so that you would want to read it in one sitting), and in order to do that I really needed to write the book in one chunk of time rather than divided up pre-baby and post-baby. So I had just eight months. It meant that I made some practical aesthetic decisions: it would be a short book, told from one person’s point of view, and the structure would be linear – I didn’t have the time to be experimental. In a way, though, those decisions also mirrored Vermeer’s aesthetic of simplicity and understatement, so it worked out very well.
  • How did you research the book?

    I began by looking at a lot of paintings – not just Vermeer’s, but other Dutch artists’ paintings of the time as well. There was a fashion then for paintings of everyday life, and looking at them built up a kind of visual reference for me. Then I began to read – about Vermeer, about painting, about the history of the time. It helped that there had been a major Vermeer exhibition a few years back and a number of books about this sort of thing had just come out. Then of course I went to Delft, also to Amsterdam, to see for myself. Finally I wrote the book, going back to sources to answer questions along the way.
  • Do you paint, or have you ever modeled for a painting?

    I took a painting class while I was researching the book. I was really terrible at it. I have never modeled for a painting but I did talk to a friend who is a portrait painter about the relationship that can develop between painter and model.
  • Do you have any training as an art historian?

          Nope. I’m a novice, just like you.

  • How did you decide on names for your characters? How are they
    Many of the names are of known people: Vermeer’s wife was called Catharina, her mother was Maria Thins, and the children’s names are all recorded, so I didn’t have to make any of those up. As for Griet herself, I wrote down female Dutch names I came across as I was doing research. One day I wrote down Griet and knew that was it: short, tidy, definite. It’s short for Margriet, and a year after the book was published I discovered that Margriet means “pearl” in Dutch. Amazing, eh?
  • Does Griet love Vermeer? Does Vermeer love Griet?
    It’s difficult to answer this. (I know, you’d think the writer would know!) In many ways the point of the book is that whatever they may feel, they don’t analyze it or expect to act on it, nor do they expect anything from each other. Griet knows it’s an impossibility and never dares to anticipate what Vermeer might feel for her. And Vermeer – well, he may feel something for her but in the end his passion for the perfect painting is stronger.


If you want to know more about Tracy Chevalier and her works you can vistit the following site in which you can find the complete interview.

Tracy Chevalier