Though he apparently produced fewer than 40 paintings in his lifetime, Dutch painter Jan Vermeer is one of the most respected artists of the European tradition.
Most of Vermeer's paintings are serene, luminous interiors populated by one or two figures.
Vermeer grew up in Delft, Holland. He was admitted to the painters' guild in 1653, and was thereafter permitted to sell his art. Vermeer also worked as an art dealer to supplement his income and support his wife and 11 children. Beginning in 1672, war with France ruined Holland's economy, and Vermeer's business failed, too. Soon after, Vermeer died of a stroke at the age of 42, leaving his family bankrupt. Vermeer's paintings were then largely forgotten for nearly 200 years, until 1858 when a French critic began to write admiringly about Vermeer's work.
Interest in Vermeer's work surged again recently with his work exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Several contemporary writers have been inspired by his work, including Tracy Chevalier whose novel Girl with a Pearl Earring imagines the life of the girl in Vermeer's painting of the same name.