Vermeer? A Conversation Through Time
Vermeer’s own copy of The Guitar Player—or another artist’s version? For the last century, Philadelphia’s Lady with a Guitar has been the subject of fascination and questions. Long catalogued as a ‘Copy after Vermeer’ in the John G. Johnson Collection at the museum, the work is either Johannes Vermeer’s own replica of his painting The Guitar Player in the collection of Kenwood House, London or another artist’s close copy of it.
Since the 1920s, scholars have puzzled over the relationship between the two pictures. The hairstyles are different – the Philadelphia musician does not have corkscrew ringlets – but otherwise, the images are nearly identical. 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 the Philadelphia painting is a copy by another artist. In March 2023, researcher Arie Wallert reasoned 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 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.
Old restorations were removed from the painting 50 years ago, revealing exactly what remains of the original paint. The painting is on view in this unrestored condition, giving all a rare opportunity to see what researchers have been looking at for the past five decades in their search for clues of style, technique, or materials that might yet tell us—Vermeer’s own work, or another artist’s?
Jennifer A. Thompson, The Gloria and Jack Drosdick Curator of European Painting & Sculpture and Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection
Mark Tucker, The Neubauer Family Director of Conservation