Johannes Vermeer Paints A Girl Asleep

A Girl Asleep, also known as A Woman Asleep at Table, is a painting by the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, 1657.

It is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City.

This painting is the earliest indisputable work by Vermeer. The Rembrandtesque influence in this phase of his life can easily be ascertained from the rich and heavily impastoed pigments used in the painting.

In the left part of the composition is showed a table covered with a glowing Oriental rug pulled up in front. On it is a Delftware plate with fruit, a white pitcher, and an overturned glass or roemer in the foreground. At the far end of the table is a young woman asleep, her head resting on her propped-up right arm and hand; the left one lies negligently flat. To the right is the back of a chair, and in the distance a half-open door that allows the viewer to see into another room.

The theme goes directly back to Rembrandt. One of his drawings, A Girl Asleep at a Window, at the Tuffier Collection, Paris, shows a very similar pose. This, and the type of model, were also adopted by Nicolaes Maes in his Idle Servant, dated 1655, at the National Gallery, London, although there the maid sleeps on her left arm and hand. An identical stance can also be found in Maes's Housekeeper from a year later, at the Saint Louis Art Museum. It has been suggested that Nicolaes Maes stayed in Delft after having left Rembrandt's studio, perhaps in 1653 or even later, to move to Dordrecht afterward. In any event, there were ample possibilities for Vermeer to have had access to Rembrandtesque drawings, from a possible stay in the Rembrandt studio to Leonard Bramer and Carel Fabritius. The handling of the light, as well as the deep colouring and heavy paste in the execution, derives from Rembrandtesque techniques of the early 1640s.

This painting, which is probably Vermeer's earliest genre scene, places a sleeping or inebriated woman in a restricted space between a heavily-laden table and a half-opened door leading to a distant light-filled room. The earth tones and deep reds of the palette, as well as the unusual spatial organization, are reminiscent of paintings by Nicolaes Maes, who influenced Vermeer at this stage of his career. However, unlike Maes, Vermeer neither explains the narrative nor provides a moralizing commentary about the woman's state of being.