According to one scholar, the Philadelphia Museum of Art may have in its collection a true Vermeer painting that has long gone unattributed to the Dutch master.
The Art Newspaper reports that, at a recent symposium, Arie Wallert averred that the late 17th-century painting Lady with a Guitar is “a painting by Vermeer.” This contradicts the museum’s own information about the work, which clearly states that the work is a copy of another similar painting from ca. 1672 that’s held by the Kenwood House in London.
The Kenwood painting also features a female sitter strumming an instrument. Save for one noticeable alteration (that of the woman’s hairstyle), this painting’s composition and subject matter look nearly identical to those in the Philadelphia Museum one.
“The Philadelphia Museum of Art is grateful for past and continuing contributions of scholarship to the discourse around Lady with a Guitar, which has been identified in the John G. Johnson Collection as a copy after Vermeer,” Sasha Suda, the museum’s director, said in a statement. “Our conversation at the museum now is focused on the wonderful impossibility that this work of art remains on earth, in our care, and that historic works of art connect people and ideas through time. The future of Lady with a Guitar at PMA will be to inspire discussion, embracing scholarship, and to seek more knowledge and enlightenment from this mysterious painting nearly 350 years after its creation.”
Wallert, who was formerly a specialist with the Rijksmuseum, the Amsterdam institution now mounting a once-in-a-lifetime Vermeer retrospective, reportedly said that the Philadelphia artwork is in a “shocking” condition. In her statement, Suda said the painting, which entered the collection in the 1930s, is currently “in a highly compromised state” after “prior conservation efforts.” By comparison, the Kenwood House picture is well-known, but it does not figure in the Rijksmuseum show on view now.
There are only 37 paintings that scholars agree can be attributed to Vermeer. Some 28 of them are currently in the sold-out Rijksmuseum show. Recently, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. made headlines when experts with the museum stripped the Vermeer attribution from a painting in its collection. Somewhat controversially, the Rijksmuseum curators chose to treat that work as a bona fide Vermeer anyway.