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Painting table analysis

Jan VERMEER - The dairy

Vermeer, La laitiere, 1660, Reikjmuseum - Photo gm.jpg

Jan VERMEER - The diary - 1660 - Rijks Muséum - Photo Guy Mauchamp

Here is a simple and peaceful scene that has become a true modern icon. I had the pleasure of admiring it in Amsterdam, then working on its composition (sorry for the shadows of the frame: the lighting of the museum was not ideal).


I will not add any comments as there are already some on the tranquility of this instant suspended in time, the magnificent plays of light and shadow, the shimmering colors ... This anonymous young woman returns us to the simplicity of 'a daily life without lighthouse, with which everyone can easily identify.

I have been personally challenged by the luminous emptiness behind the dairy when everything is well filled in front of it in shadows. An almost desolate and disturbing bare wall is imposed as life flows in front of the servant. A large milky vacuum studded with nails and nail holes that betray old activities. While we suspect that the dairy prepares a recipe for the meal of the day, we wonder what these nails had been used for in the past. We'll never know.


I started my compositional research with the first gestures of the painters: drawing the harmonic grids from the format.

Vermeer, La laitiere - Composition with golden grid

Vermeer - La laitière - composition with the golden grid which positions the thumb holding the milk jug.

I was surprised that a single harmonic grid was apparently used to place the woman's left thumb. But it happens that Vermeer does not retain any harmonic grid to condition his characters, as for example in "the painter 's studio ". Vermeer seems to register here the measured and peaceful gesture of the dairy in a natural and harmonious order with this grid of the golden ratio.

However, by observing other harmonic grids, four nail holes in the wall are positioned by three composition grids: the earth square (green), the thirds (purple) and the medians (white).

Vermeer - The dairy - The harmonic grids of composition

Vermeer - La laitière - composition with three harmonic grids

Why this desire to place these insignificant details of nail holes in the wall with such precision? We know that the sense of realism is dear to Vermeer, moreover with the conditioning of these holes on the three harmonic grids arises the question of the meaning to give them?

Vermeer - The dairy - The nails on the harmonic grids

Vermeer - La laitière - trois grilles harmoniques positionnent quatre trous de clous dans le mur

A track can be cleared by drawing the woman's lines of vision to discover what concerns her. Its horizontal line of sight below points on the edge of the format the corner of the earth square (in green), while passing by the nail which holds the wicker basket. That's another insistence on a nail! This red line also passes through the broken pane of the window. Then three viewing angles point a nail at 45 ° (in orange), then two nail holes at 36 ° (in yellow) and 19 ° (in blue).

Vermeer - The dairy - The nails on the harmonic grids

Vermeer - La laitière - les lignes de regard de la femme.

It should be noted that no line of gaze of his left eye is concerned with his present action, his gesture to for the milk into the pot. The accent emphasizes the nails in the wall, and the nail holes which testify to an ancient use in the past.

While this woman seems to be entirely familiar with her gesture, her gaze seems to wander in dreams which perhaps escape through the small hole in the window to float in the outside world. Other nostalgic thoughts seem to cling to a bygone past with unused nails, and holes that no longer have their nails.


So with these traces of composition, his instance in the footsteps of the past, does Vermeer invite us to a reflection on the cycles of life, on the passage of time and the nostalgia that accompanies it?



Do not hesitate to leave your comment, your questions at the bottom of the page, my pleasure is to be able to exchange with you on the pictorial composition. Thank you.





Work protected by copyright © guymauchamp U79J1B9 and a deposit at SGDL Paris.

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