View of Delft, Jonahannes Vermeer, 1660-1661, at the Maurithuis
View of Delft, 1660-1661
The most famous cityscape of the Dutch Golden Age. We are looking at Delft from the south. There is hardly a breath of wind and the city has an air of tranquillity. Vermeer reflected this tranquillity in his composition by making three horizontal strips: water, city and sky. He also painted the buildings a bit nearer than they actually were.
Haze, light shadow, deep shadow, reflections and brilliant sunshine: no other painter has caught the changing patterns of light as clouds move across a sunny sky quite so powerfully. The interplay of light and shade, the impressive cloudy sky and the subtle reflections in the water make this painting an absolute masterpiece. Vermeer's technique was revolutionary - he used strippled dots or 'pointillism' to add depth to the timbers of the boat, the trees and the city walls.
The pointillist technique that Vermeer used to suggest reflections flickering off the water is most easily visible on the two herring boats on the right.
Marcel Proust saw the painting in The Hague in 1902 and again at the Jeu de Paume in Paris in 1921 and declared it 'the most beautiful painting in the world'. The painting recurs as a touchstone and talisman of art's perfection through A la Recherche du Temps Perdue. In the fifth volume, the writer Bergotte has long wanted to revisit not only the painting but one small corner of it, 'a little patch of yellow wall' which 'was so well painted that it was, if one looked at it by itself, like some priceless specimen of Chinese art, of a beauty that was sufficient in itself'.