Dutch Master Who Had No Special Training: Johannes Vermeer


Here’s the thing about Johannes Vermeer—he was just an average guy who didn’t have any special training or schooling in art, yet he went on to become one of the most legendary painters in history. Although he was never formally trained, he produced nearly 50 extraordinary paintings throughout his short life, including The Milkmaid and Girl with a Pearl Earring. 

He would complete only one or two paintings per year, yet his works are valued today as high as those of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Picasso. So how did he do it? A look at his life and work might offer some clues.

Let’s look at how he defied the odds to become one of the greatest painters, despite his lack of advantages.

Where Can I See His Paintings?

You can see over 40 Vermeer paintings at museums like the National Gallery, London, and Louver. 

There are only 35 authenticated works by Vermeer in existence and only 36 that are known today, including unfinished pieces and drawings. That’s why it is considered a fantastic feat that there are so many great Vermeer paintings still existing in world-class museums around the globe! You can therefore check out Johannes Vermeer artworks

Who Was Vermeer, And Why Does It Matter?

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch artist who made his living as an artist. He wasn’t particularly famous during his lifetime, and he didn’t have much money. But today, many experts say that if he had lived longer (he died at age 43), his work would be worth billions. So why is it so popular? How did he become so good when he never had any formal training?

How Do You Learn If There Is No Master?

People often assume that a master’s is necessary for learning how to paint. But there was no such thing as a formal education in art back then. So how did Johannes Vermeer manage to go from being an unknown master painter who spent his life doing chores for another artist to becoming one of history’s most renowned and sought-after painters?  

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The answer lies in his genius. He had an unusual way of viewing things, which he called seeing with my mind’s eye. Here are some examples of Johannes Vermeer using perspective to create depth: We take it for granted today, but the perspective was a relatively new invention when Johannes Vermeer began painting.

Artists before him used what they called one-point perspective (basically just having everything on your canvas come together at one point). This allowed them to make their paintings look three-dimensional by using techniques like shading and overlapping lines. 

But it wasn’t perfect. One-point perspective only works when you’re looking at something straight on. This means that if you were to move your head a little bit, things would start to go out of whack: If you were standing next to a painting with a one-point perspective, it would look like there was a big hole in the wall where you could see through into another room.

Why Did He Paint So Few Paintings?

You’re probably wondering why it took Vermeer so long to produce a relatively small number of paintings—especially when you consider that he was working steadily throughout his entire career, painting as many as three paintings in a year. The simple explanation for these four-decade gaps is that, like many artists before and after him, Vermeer ran into financial troubles. When money was tight, he couldn’t afford supplies and had to put off painting until his circumstances improved.

Johannes Vermeer artworks are rare. In 1663, a young girl with a feverish gaze and pallid complexion stepped into Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer’s studio for a portrait. It took him three days to complete it—and, in doing so, he created art history. Today, his The Girl with a Pearl Earring is worth more than $30 million. 

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The Girl with a Pearl Earring – Johannes Vermeer

Another one of his masterpieces is The Milkmaid (c. 1658–60), which Britain’s National Gallery has held since 1824. It is a scarce example of a domestic scene painted by Vermeer, who is more well known for his depictions of interiors and landscapes. The painting shows a young woman pouring milk into a bowl while holding a wooden bucket in her left hand and steadying herself with her right on top of a table.

What Is So Unique About Vermeer Artist Paintings?

So, how did Vermeer do it? It’s an interesting question, and there are a lot of theories out there. He used perspective tricks such as double imaging – focusing on two parts of his composition and then painting both at once to make sure they look accurate when viewed together. It’s a simple but effective method!

To know about Vermeer, you have to understand that Johannes Vermeer defied convention as an artist in just about every way. There was no systematic training for him: his father was a miller who didn’t have any particular interest in art, and there weren’t many artists around where he lived. He also ignored prevailing artistic trends and did his own thing; it took nearly a century after his death for someone to even notice what he was doing.

But what sets Vermeer apart is his ability to create an almost photographic realism in his paintings. He never used an optical instrument such as a camera obscura. Instead, he seems to have painted straight from his head with his eyes. And yet, this Vermeer artist still makes sure that he gets every little detail right: even in paintings like Girl with a Pearl Earring, where you can’t quite tell what she’s wearing, every single hair on her head is perfectly rendered!


When you study his life and work, it becomes clear that Johannes Vermeer was an artist with great talent and determination. He beat long odds, rose above criticism, made a difference in art history—and became a lasting name in art. He did it because he followed a simple formula: See what others don’t. Execute with discipline. Find inspiration everywhere. Learn from your mistakes—and those of others.


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