As Vermeer’s life was short and his painting most deliberate and painstaking, he produced but few pictures. Some thirty-eight in all are known to exist at this time. Twenty-one of these were sold at auction in Amsterdam in 1696 among other paintings by various artists. Number 8 of this sale, catalogued as A Drunken Maid Servant Asleep behind a Table, by Vermeer, fetched 62 florins. This is the Altman picture. It is one of eight authenticated paintings by Vermeer now in America, of which two others are exhibited in the Marquand Gallery, The Woman with a Water Jug, belonging to the Museum, and A Lady Writing, lent by J. Pierpont Morgan.
Our picture shows a young girl asleep behind a table covered with a Turkey rug, on which are a blue dish with fruit, a napkin, a jug, and a knife. At the right is a door, half open, leading to another room where a table is seen with a small picture hanging above it. On the wall back of the figure is a picture representing Cupid, only a part of which is shown. This is one of Vermeer’s belongings that he utilized several times in his backgrounds. Besides its use in the Altman picture, it occurs in A Lady at a Spinet, which is in the National Gallery, and again in the Music Lesson, belonging to Henry C. Frick.
Vermeer’s supreme quality is his painting of the cool, diffused light of an ordinary room. Each part of his pictures is steeped in light. Though every detail is insisted upon, his handling remains broad and ample, and he attains a beauty of smooth, lustrous surface that has never been exceeded.
Though counted among Rembrandt’s pupils, he never studied directly with the master, having been taught by Rembrandt’s scholar, Carel Fabritius. The influence of the great genius, which is so apt to be crushing to the young artist, was far enough re-moved in his case to enable him to follow his own trend, which he attained at an early age and varied but slightly afterward. On this account it is difficult to assign a sequence to his production beyond his earliest examples.
The picture was exhibited by Mr. Altman at the Hudson Fulton Celebration at the Museum in 1909. I t comes from the Rodolphe Kann Collection.