14:37 PM

VERMEER? A Conversation through Time


Public Opportunity to See the Painting in Unrestored Condition Prior to Continued Research in Collaboration with Vermeer Experts

Lady with a Guitar in the John G. Johnson Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Catalogued for Almost a Century as ‘Copy After Vermeer’, Could Be by Vermeer, Says Speaker at the March 2023 Vermeer Symposium in Amsterdam

May 25, 2023 - Throughout the 20th century and to the present day, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Lady with a Guitar has been the subject of deep fascination and many questions. Long catalogued as a ‘Copy after Vermeer’ in the John G. Johnson Collection at the Museum, the work is a replica or close duplicate of Johannes Vermeer’s The Guitar Player (c.1672) today in the collection of Kenwood House, London. The hairstyles of the sitter are different – the Philadelphia musician does not have corkscrew ringlets – but otherwise the images are nearly identical.

Since the 1920s, scholars have puzzled over the relationship between the two pictures. Complicating the comparison is the fact that the London painting is one of Vermeer’s best-preserved works, while the Philadelphia version is in a compromised condition. Most scholars have felt that ‘Lady’ is a copy by another artist. In March 2023, however, against the backdrop of the definitive Vermeer show at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, researcher Arie Wallert claimed that the Philadelphia painting could be by Vermeer himself, altered at some time in its past by aggressive cleaning attempts that removed much of the artist’s uppermost, finishing layers of paint.

In light of the new findings, Philadelphia Museum of Art scientists, conservators, and curators are pursuing further study of the painting in collaboration with colleagues at other institutions – experts on Vermeer – led by the PMA and using the most advanced analytical tools available. The aim is to add to knowledge of the work’s construction and materials and, it is hoped, shed more light on who made it.

“The Philadelphia Museum of Art is grateful for the past and continuing contributions of scholarship to the mysterious discourse of our Lady with a Guitar,” commented Sasha Suda, George D. Widener Director and CEO. “Our conversation at the museum now is focused on the future of the painting, embracing collaborative research, seeking more knowledge, and inviting the public to be part of the process.” 

“The possibility of working even more closely with Vermeer scholars in 2024 to shed further light on PMA’s Lady with a Guitar across centuries is incredibly stimulating,” added Carlos Basualdo, Marion Boulton “Kippy” Stroud Deputy Director and Chief Curator. “We look very much forward to a process that is collegial and open, while we continue to care for this extraordinary painting in our collection.”

Lady with a Guitar will be on view from June 10 through late 2023 in Gallery 364.

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