The painting Girl with a Pearl Earring (Dutch: Het Meisje met de Parel) is one of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer‘s masterworks and as the name implies, uses a pearl earring for a focal point. The painting is in The Mauritshuis in The Hague. It is sometimes referred to as “the Mona Lisa of the North” or “the Dutch Mona Lisa“.
In general, very little is known about Vermeer and his works. This painting is signed “IVMeer” but not dated. It is unclear whether this work was commissioned, and if so, by whom. In any case, it is probably not meant as a conventional portrait.
More recent Vermeer literature points to the image being a tronie, the Dutch 17th-century description of a ’head’ that was not meant to be a portrait. After the most recent restoration of the painting in 1994 the subtle colour scheme and the intimacy of the girl’s gaze on to the spectator have been greatly enhanced.
On the advice of Victor de Stuers, who for years tried to prevent Vermeer’s rare works from being sold to parties abroad, A.A. des Tombe purchased the work at an auction in The Hague in 1881 for only two guilders and thirty cents. At the time, it was in poor condition. Des Tombe had no heirs and donated this and other paintings to the Mauritshuis in 1902.
In 1937, a very similar painting, Smiling Girl, at the time also thought to be by Vermeer, was donated by collector Andrew W. Mellon to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It is now widely considered to be a fake. Vermeer expert Arthur Wheelock claimed in a 1995 study that it is by 20th-century artist and forger Theo van Wijngaarden, a friend of Han van Meegeren.
The Girl with a Pearl Earring in fiction:
Tracy Chevalier wrote a historical novel, also entitled Girl with a Pearl Earring (1999), fictionalizing the circumstances of the painting’s creation. In the novel, Johannes Vermeer becomes close with a fictional servant named Griet, whom he hires as an assistant and has sit for him as a painting model while wearing one of his wife’s pearl earrings. The novel inspired a 2003 film and 2008 play of the same name.