Unprecedented Vermeer exhibit to unite ‘Milkmaid’ and ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’

Man speaking with Vermeer's 'The Milkmaid' in the background
Taco Dibbits, the director of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, speaks in front of Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” on Thursday.
(Peter Dejong / Associated Press)

The Netherlands’ most famous museum will unite two iconic paintings by Johannes Vermeer — “The Girl With a Pearl Earring” and “The Milkmaid” — in an unprecedented exhibit bringing together 27 of the artist’s 35 known paintings.

In Thursday’s announcement of the exhibit, which will run from Feb. 10 to June 4, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam said it would be the first time since 1996 that Vermeer’s two best-known paintings would be united in the same building, dating back to a 1996 show at The Hague’s Mauritshuis, home to “The Girl With a Pearl Earring.”

Vermeer lived in Delft in the 17th century, and is hailed as an artist with an uncanny genius for creating paintings that somehow exude a soothing inner light. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the two paintings that have become as synonymous with Dutch art as any works by Van Gogh or Rembrandt.


The Rijksmuseum did extensive work on “The Milkmaid” and discovered that the vast unadorned white wall behind her was not always meant to be like that. Through special technologies, a sketch under the final layer of paint was discovered that shows a more cluttered background with a jug holder and a fire basket. Later, Vermeer thought better of it and went for the distinctive white background.

New York’s Frick Collection will lend its three Vermeer works, which will be shown together outside of New York more than a century after the museum acquired them.