The Guitar Player (Vermeer)

The Guitar Player is an oil painting by Dutch Baroque artist Johannes Vermeer (1632 - 1675), dated c. 1672. This work of art is one of Vermeer's final artistic activities, providing insight into the techniques he mastered and approaches to painting he favored. The painting has been on display at Kenwood House, London since the 1920s, as part of the Iveagh Bequest collection. After being recovered from a theft in 1974, when the painting was held for ransom, The Guitar Player was returned to Kenwood House.

The Guitar Player
Jan Vermeer van Delft 013.jpg
Vermeer - The Guitar Player
ArtistJohannes Vermeer
Mediumoil on canvas
Dimensions53 cm × 46.3 cm (21 in × 18.2 in)
LocationKenwood House, London


Johannes Vermeer, Woman with a Lute, 1664, oil on canvas

Vermeer's artistic style in the 1670s is often compared to his earlier style of the mid-1660s. The Guitar Player properly demonstrates the energy of Vermeer's late style.[1][2] His earlier paintings portray quiet self-contained worlds, but The Guitar Player is different.[1] His late style demonstrated abstract painting techniques, in which the depiction of motion is portrayed through the diffused illustration of shifting objects.[3] With Vermeer's experience, he began to create paintings that demonstrate dynamic poses and actions, implying that a movement (or in this case, sound) is taking place.[4] The Guitar Player is often compared to Vermeer's, Woman with a Lute.

Composition and StyleEdit

The Guitar Player represents a new direction in Vermeer's art. Because he developed and perfected compositional balance and harmony during the 1660s, he was able to expand and paint scenes that show imbalance and fluctuation.[4] Vermeer's painting of The Guitar Player rejects compositional balance and harmony, which contradicts his previous paintings.[4] This painting exhibits an unbalanced arrangement that depicts a lack of compositional consistency, but also rejects the past instrument of the lute to focus on the modern guitar.[4][5][6] The rejection of the lute and depiction of the guitar may be linked to Vermeer's compositional organization.[4] Vermeer painted the young guitar player far to the left, covering the right half of the paining in light and shadow. This imbalance gives the viewer a sense of change and movement. The combination of an uneven arrangement conjoined with a gleam of light coming from the right rather than the left, forces the viewer engage with the character and instrument in this painting.[6] The compositional arrangement is reinforced by Vermeer's decision to specifically direct the light onto the guitar player, which helps the viewer feel the impact of her presence.[6] As a result of Vermeer's decision to paint a single personality, a greater importance and focus is placed on the instrument.[7] The inclusion of a pastoral landscape, dark curtains, three books, and a blue tablecloth provide a counterbalance to the overriding composition displayed on the left of this artwork.[5]

The late style of Vermeer utilized a number of painting techniques, most of which suggest an abstract style.[2] His fascination with objects and actions that portray movement and sound are represented by an approach to painting that establishes objects as diffused and illuminated.[2] In his painting, Vermeer integrated the use of abstraction through the strum of the guitar strings and movement of the right hand.[2] Because this painting stayed with him until he died in 1675, we are to assume that this was his own stylistic direction, and not a request of a patron.[2]

Visual AnalysisEdit

In this painting, Vermeer depicts a young girl strumming a guitar. The instrument is placed comfortably on her lap while she plays near a window, sitting in the corner of a room. Her attire is made up of an ermine-bordered yellow jacket, an ivory-colored satin dress, and a pearl necklace.[6][8] Surrounding her is a painted pastoral landscape bordered by an extravagant picture frame, a blank wall, three books, and a guitar.[6][8] Prior to this painting, Vermeer portrayed individuals with obscure expressions.[3] On the contrary, this young girl has an open expression that is joyous and flirtatious. The girl's smile and tipped head, along with the fixed gaze on something just outside the painting suggests that she is playing not for us, but for an unseen individual.[7][8][3] Her dress and hairstyle reflect the relevant fashions of the wealthy Dutch, in that day.[3]

The young girl is portrayed with wholesome features and a free expression, as if she is in the act of speaking or singing. The joyous demeanor established in this painting is conveyed through the young girl's self expression, the peaceful landscape pictured behind her, and the soft tones of light and dark. Due to these factors, Vermeer is able to provoke feelings of calmness and contentment.[8]

Johannes Vermeer, Lady Writing a Letter, 1665, oil on canvas

Yellow jacket and satin dressEdit

Johannes Vermeer, Mistress and Maid, 1667, oil on canvas

The morning jacket portrayed in this painting resembles five separate Vermeer paintings, three of which are A Lady Writing a Letter, Mistress and Maid, and Woman with a Pearl Necklace.[3] In each painting, the jacket depicts different types of folds, distribution of spots, and fur trim.[3] The thin patches of gray and yellow led-tin paint categorize the abstract pattern that establishes the folds in the jackets fabric and fur trim.[5][6] Vermeer's devotion to painting light and shade can be acknowledged through the inclusion of dark brown shadows painted on the young musicians right arm and shoulder.[6] From a distance these small patches seem blended, but they are actually laying side-by-side.[5] Historians conclude that the fur on Vermeer's morning jacket was not made from ermine, but either cat, squirrel, or mouse. The fur was then decorated with faux spots.[5] The jacket in The Guitar Player is one of the few surviving examples of 17th century overcoats.

The depiction of a satin dress implies a life of luxury. The young girls gown is presumably starched satin. For the dress to appear heavy and shimmery, the material was stiffened with starch and then ironed. The act of painting fine materials such as satin, took time and talent. To realistically represent luxurious materials, the artist had to be able to depict small details in the folds and patterns of the dress. To complete such a task, the artist often set up a life-sized wooden manikin dressed in the garments.

Pearl necklaceEdit

Vermeer's depiction of a pearl necklace alludes to the young girls elegant lifestyle.[5][2] In this work he used an abstract technique to portray the pearl necklace, which was replicated his painting, Allegory of Faith.[5][2] To begin, he painted a base layer of dark greenish gray that curved around her neck to depict a shadow.[5][2] Over the shadow, he created a hazy sequence of white spherical highlights.[2][5] He didn't define the individual pearls to portray the natural translucence of the gemstone.[5] Compared to his paintings of the mid-1660s, Vermeer simplified and dismissed intense detail for abstracted portrayals.[5][2] This shows an outgrowth of his own style, along with a technique that was not frequented by artists of his time.[2]


Johannes Vermeer, Woman with a Pearl Necklace, 1665, oil on canvas

Vermeer's depiction of a young girl making music is associated with the nobility found in artistic inspiration, as well as the art of painting in the seventeenth century.[9] The guitar originated in Spain, and was keenly sought after in the Dutch Republic.[10] Compared to the lute, the guitar was cheaper and easier to play.[11] This instrument has been decorated with a combination of ivory, ebony, tortoiseshell, and mother-of-pearl. The soundhole is created with multiple layers of ornately scrolled paper.[10] In the seventeenth century, the guitar was used as both a continuo (harmonic) instrument, and a solo instrument.[3] The music the guitar produces is bolder than that of the lute, and this is due to the design of the cords. The guitars strings reverberate deeper and fuller than that of past instruments.[6] It does not play as loud as the modern flamenco guitar, and the gut strings are played with fingers.[7][3] This painting depicts a five-course guitar, which was standard for most solo musicians.[7]

Vermeer's depiction of a guitar suggests a move into the modern world of music, in which the lute is left behind with its contemplative and conservative traditions.[6][5] The depiction of this guitar was created with immense attention to detail. The sound hole is created with a depiction of a finely tooled gold rose, where Vermeer has created an abstract arrangement of painted strokes. These strokes are highlighted with hazy accents of lead-tin yellow paint.[6] The decorative white and black trim of the guitars border intensifies the painting's cheerful atmosphere.[5] The small detailed sound hole was created with blobs of impasto paint, which portrays the light reflecting across its slick uneven surface. The most influential and well thought out technique Vermeer used in this painting focusses on the guitar's strings.[5] Some of the strings are blurred, this suggests that they have been strummed and are vibrating.[5][4] Because of this, we can assume she is in the midst of playing a song.

Landscape paintingEdit

Vermeer's picture-within-a-picture was identified by art historian Gregor Weber.[5] The landscape that is depicted behind the young girls head is identified with Pieter Jansz's, A Wooded Landscape with a Gentleman and Dogs in the Foreground.[5] In Vermeer's version, the mimicked composition is cropped slightly on top, and on the right. The head of the young musician covers the gentleman and dogs.[5] Vermeer's version guides the viewers focus towards the centered tree, as well as incorporating blue skies and greener foliage.[1]

Vermeer may have incorporated this sun-filled pastoral landscape into his painting in reference to woman's beauty.[4] Artists in the seventeenth century were often attributing the topic of female beauty to nature, which was frequently expressed through poetry and music.[4]


Vermeer's depiction of a whitewashed wall allowed him to set the stage for a scene that illustrates an individual strumming a guitar composed on the left side of the canvas.[3] The painting's composition is balanced due to the large negative space the wall creates. The unobtrusive wall helps establish the mood of the painting, as well as the lighting scheme and spatial depth.[3] Because of the wall's color, Vermeer was able to establish a warm and welcoming temperature from the incoming light. Vermeer's brushwork also implies the lights direction.[3]

According to the Delft building historian Wim Weeve, the use of whitewashed walls was frequently integrated in the houses, castles, and churches of the Dutch in the Middle Ages.[3] The beginning process of whitewashing a wall starts with a thick application of lime putty, which is created with burned seashells. When the putty dries, and the wall is thick enough, then the process of whitewashing with paint can begin.


Although unrecognizable to the untrained eye, this wooden chair is portrayed several times through Vermeer's artistic career.[5] At the top left hand side of the painting, behind her shoulder, a silhouette of a lion head finial can be found. This finial references chairs designed and crafted by the Spanish. When constructing this chair, the Spanish craftsman used leather and not cloth. This is due to Spains constant supply of rawhide.[3] These chairs were respected for their craftsmanship and creativity, and the creators of these chairs regarded themselves as superior within the craftsman guilds.[3]


Vermeer's decision to depict three books suggests the young girls sophistication, which is implied through a high level of education. Even though scholars do not know the book titles, it has been argued that the middle book's bulkiness resembles the Bible, and its been stated that the possible representation of the Bible implies biblical advice. If this is true, then the painting could indicate a decision to morally ignore the religious text. The young girl's body language and facial expression turn away from the book to pay attention to the individual on her right. Others argue that the presence of the book implies learning, which is familiar in Dutch paintings of the Middle Ages. According to scholar Elise Goodman, the young musician featured in this painting would be a member of the haute bourgeoisie who could read, write, and speak several languages.[3]


After Vermeer's death in 1675, the painting stayed in Delft in the hands of Maria de Knuijt, his widow.[12] In 1682, Maria gave the painting to their daughter, Magdalena van Ruijven.[12] After Magdalena's death, the painting was passed on to her widower, Jacob Abrahamsz Dissius, in 1695.[12] On the 16th of May, 1696, the painting was auctioned off at a Dissius sale in Amsterdam.[12] From 1794 to 1802, The Guitar Player was in the hands of Henry Temple, 2nd Viscount Palmerston, in London.[12] From the dates of 1802 to 1865, the painting was owned by Temple's son, Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston.[12] Eventually, the painting was in the ownership of John Temple's step-son, William Francis Cowper-Temple, 1st Baron Mount Temple, from 1865 - 1888.[12] In 1888, his step son, Evelyn Melbourne Ashley, sold the painting to Thomas Agnew and Sons, in London.[12] Between the dates of 1888 and 1889, the painting was sold by the Agnews to Edward Guinness.[12] From the dates of 1889 to 1927, the painting was in the hands of Edward Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, in London.[12]

In 2012, Kenwood House closed for renovations.[13] While construction was taking place, the painting was on display in the National Gallery, beside the visiting galley's own two Vermeer's.[14] In 2013, The painting was returned in late December when construction was over.[13] The Guitar Player is currently on display in the Kenwood House in London, as part of the Iveagh Bequest collection.[12]


On February 23, 1974, someone stole the painting from Kenwood House and ransomed it for a deal to deliver and distribute over $1 million (US) dollars in food to the Caribbean island of Grenada, or the thief would destroy the painting.[15] Following the threat, a small strip of the painting was sent to The Times in London, along with another demand that requested the Irish Republican sisters Marian and Dolours Price be allowed to serve their prison sentences near their homes in Northern Ireland.[16] It was recovered by Scotland Yard in the cemetery of St Bartholomew-the-Great, in London's financial district, on May 7, 1974. The painting showed signs of dampness, but was otherwise undamaged.[17]

A period copy, A Lady Playing the Guitar, is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


  1. ^ a b c Wheelock, Arthur. Vermeer and the Art of Painting. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 149–155.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Wheelock, Arthur. Vermeer and the Art of Painting. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. p. 154.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Janson, Jonathan. "The Guitar Player by Johannes Vermeer". Essential Vermeer 2.0. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Wheelock, Arthur. Vermeer and the Art of Painting. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. p. 150.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Janson, Jonathan. "The Guitar Player by Johannes Vermeer". Essential Vermeer 2.0. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Wheelock, Arthur. Vermeer and the Art of Painting. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. p. 152.
  7. ^ a b c d Wieseman, Marjorie. Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure. London: National Gallery Company. p. 68.
  8. ^ a b c d Wheelock, Arthur. Vermeer and the Art of Painting. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. p. 149.
  9. ^ Gaskell, Ivan (2000-10-01). Vermeer's Wager : Speculations on Art History, Theory and Art Museums. Reaktion Books, Limited. p. 62.
  10. ^ a b Wieseman, Marjorie. Vermeer Music: The Art of Love and Leisure. London: National Gallery Company. p. 20.
  11. ^ Wieseman, Marjorie. Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure. London: National Gallery Company. p. 73.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Janson, Jonathan. "The Guitar Player by Johannes Vermeer". Essential Vermeer. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  13. ^ a b "What Vermeer's guitar player taught me about the joy of art | Simon Jenkins | Opinion". The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-07-15. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-04-26. Retrieved 2013-04-26. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ "Vermeer Thefts: The Guitar Player". Retrieved 2017-07-15. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  17. ^ [2]


Scholarly books and articlesEdit

  • Wheelock, Arthur. "Chapter XV: The Guitar Player." Vermeer and the Art of Painting, Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
  • Wiesman, Marjorie. "24: The Guitar Player, About 1672." Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure, London, National Gallery Company, Yale University Press.
  • Liedtke, Walter. "35: The Guitar Player." Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, Belgium.
  • Gaskell, Ivan. Vermeer's Wager: Speculationson Art History, Theory and Art Museums, Reaction Books, 1 October 2000.


  • Janson, Jonathan. "The Guitar Player." Essential Vermeer 2.0.

Further readingEdit