Perhaps Not a Vermeer?

It was recently mentioned in a post by Lee Rosenbaum that this painting, Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, may actually not be painted by Vermeer. Benjamin Binstock argues in a new book, Vermeer’s Family Secrets, that this painting (along with six others) may have been painted by Vermeer’s eldest daughter. Walter Leidtke, the curator of Dutch Baroque art at the Met, obviously disagrees with this theory, having recently included this painting in his new monograph on Vermeer. However, the label for this painting at the Met does suggest that the yellow shawl may have been painted by someone else.

I wonder what kind of controversy will be sparked by Binstock’s new book! Some of the debates have already started. Rosenbaum cites one reviewer in Art Newspaper that called Binstock’s theory a “wild assumption based on limited information.” Since I’m not a connoisseur of Vermeer, I can’t give an opinion myself. I also have not read Binstock’s book yet. It does seem, though, that Dr. Binstock has credible expertise; he received a PhD in Northern Baroque and Renaissance art from Columbia, and currently teaches at Columbia and New York University.

Ah, revisionist theories. It looks like the art community is about to get riled up again…

  • ixoj says:

    very interesting…so i was just watching a show where the main character worked at an auction company deciding whether works of art were authentic or not. in this particular episode, she was trying to decide if a painting was actually a monet or not. in the end, she was 99.9% sure that it was probably painted by one of his students, not monet. however, one of her co-workers wanted to sell it as a monet because everyone believed it was a monet…she decided to quit because she couldn’t stand the idea of lying about it.

    anyway. it just made me wonder how often people lie about the authenticity of a work or just plain get things wrong.

  • Emilee . . . says:

    How funny: I was reading this post and thinking to myself, “I’m going to ask her what she thinks on the matter” and then I got to the part where you stated you couldn’t give an opinion on it. You are my hero. You could write an art history post everyday and I could never get tired of it.

  • M says:

    Good comment, Ixoj.

    It’s true that there are wrong attributions to works of art. The Rembrandt Research Project (RRP) has worked for decades to determine the authenticity of Rembrandt’s oeuvre. However, there has been a lot of controversy and debate when a painting is determined to not be produced by Rembrandt. Many museums have refused to recognize the conclusions made by RRP experts. It’s easy to see why they are upset – no museum wants to hear that the prized Rembrandt in their collection is a fake (likely painted by one of Rembrandt’s pupils). It’s one of the problems with art and its inescapable ties to market and creating museum revenue. People would rather live in ignorance, thinking that they own a prized painting by a master. It’s funny too – does it mean that the painting is any less in quality if it is painted by a student instead of the master?

    Here’s a NYT article from 1989 which discusses some of the RRP controversy:

    And Emilee, you’re too kind. I’m so glad that you find this so interesting too. It’s fun to get other people excited about my passion!

  • Emilee . . . says:

    Do you think RRP experts would have any reason to purposely find a issue with the authenticity of a Rembrandt? I guess what I’m asking is, could these museums be correct about authenticity and could the RRP have any ulterior motives?

  • M says:

    Good question. It could be that there are ulterior motives for the RRP, but I am not aware of them. From what I understand, the RRP is very sincere in its attempts to determine authenticity. It’s a very difficult task, particularly because Rembrandt had many followers and pupils that painted in a similar fashion.

    This is what Simon Schama said in his book, Rembrandt’s Eyes:

    “The Rembrandt Research project, whose original mission was to sort out, once and for all, the unmistakably authentic works of the master form those of lesser imitators, followers, and pupils, ended up, in the view of some (not me), making the distinctions less, rather than more, clear. The famous Rembrandt manner, muscular impasto, and theatrical lighting, it’s said (not by me), could be imitated by others to a degree of plausibility that has made any serious differentiation between real and unreal item all but impossible.”(1)

    As you can see, it’s not just museums that have issues with the RRP. Scholars also debate on the attributions and decisions made by the group. In my opinion, I think that the RRP is trying to do a monstrously difficult task. I applaud them for their efforts and think that for the most part they do a good job – but I don’t know if I could go so far as to accept every single attribution they have made. It may be too hard to ever tell the difference between some originals and imitations.

    1 Simon Schama, Rembrandt’s Eyes, (New York: Random House, Inc., 1999), 25.

  • Emilee . . . says:

    So, they do mean well, but as the saying goes, ignorance is bliss!

  • ixoj says:

    WAIT. You mean the situation in my show is actually POSSIBLE?! My faith in museums has just been slightly shattered. I wonder how many works out there by “famous” artists were actually done by students…

  • M says:

    Ixoj, don’t be too disheartened!
    There are a lot of historical documents to help verify the authenticity of many paintings by great artists. It’s more than likely that are some pieces of art out there that are questionable, but not scores and scores. If there is much debate surrounding a certain piece, often auction houses and museums will place the qualifier “attributed to” on any label with the artist’s name.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.