Paintings & Pearls: Johannes Vemeer

At Coleman Douglas Pearls we are constantly inspired and in awe of the wonderful gift from nature that are pearls. In our recent blog post we explored the use of pearls within cinema and showcased five iconic films where pearls play a central role within the movies themselves. In today’s blog post we continue the theme of pearls in the arts and look at two works by the great Dutch baroque painter Johannes Vemeer and how he masterfully captures the brilliance of our favourite object.

One of the most popular artists of the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, Johannes Vemeer was born on the 31st of October in 1632 in Delft of the then Dutch Republic. Whilst little is known about his early life, the son of a middle-class silk maker took over operation of his father’s art business when he passed away. It is unclear whether or not Vermeer was self-taught or under whom he studied an apprenticeship but what we do know is the wonderful works of art that capture the domestic life across the society of the period. For a career that saw fewer than 50 paintings produced throughout the course of his life, Vemeer’s impact on art was quite remarkable. His extensive use of tones, style and techniques were unappreciated for more than 200 years after his death but, in the mid-nineteenth century a movement began that would finally show the master the appreciation that had eluded him. 

Girl with a Pearl Earring Arguably his most famous work, Girl with a Pearl Earring is perhaps the most famous portrayal of pearls within art. Painted around 1665, the work features a girl wearing an exotic dress and turban who gazes towards her audience. Her steely yet inviting gaze punctuated by the large pearl object that delicately hangs from her ear. The joyous orb and outfit of the young lady are brilliantly rendered in soft, distinguishing colours that are drawn against the dark background of the subject. There has been great debate as to what Vermeer intends with the use of the pearl earring. The viewer only sees one side, the shape, a teardrop, may suggest an inner sorrow and the humble attire that she is dressed in may even hint towards the suggestion that the upper classes need to live a more modest life. Regardless of the interpretation that you have, the jewellery piece, despite its size, is a crucial component of the work and we must ask, could any other item of jewellery have been used? We think not. The pearl with its connotations of elegance, timelessness, exoticism and splendor truly is a stand alone item that defies substitution. 

Women with a pearl necklacePainted around the mid 17th century, Women with a pearl necklace once again showcase Vemeer’s unique and incomparable style. The subject an upper-middle class lady as the centre figure of the work who is dressed in a splendid fur lined coat. In the process of getting ready, the woman is surrounded by opulence from her clothing to the ebony mirror and, of course, her fabulous pearl necklace. What we particularly enjoy about this work is the bright use of colour that contrasts, much like in The Girl with a Pearl Earring, with the dark background, The process of dressing with jewellery, and we are sure our readers will agree, is one of transformation; and the feeling one has when wearing a fabulous pearl necklace is simply without equal. 

Pearls, prized throughout centuries, have been central to many societies and cultures and what we love about the aforementioned works is the mystique, opulence and elegance that pearl jewellery affords the wearer. Whilst styles of dress have changed, buffeted by the waves of fashion and time, one thing stands clear; pearl jewellery will always endure. 

For more information about any of our pearl jewellery, to buy pearl jewellery online or to speak to a dedicated member of our pearl teams contact Coleman Douglas Pearls via enquiries@pearls.co.uk or on 0207 373 3369.