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Under a Thick Layer of Shrubbery, Traces of Vermeer

By Marcel Michelson
Tuesday, January 4, 2005; Page C08

DELFT, Netherlands -- An art restorer says he has solved a centuries-old mystery with the discovery of the studio of the 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer.

Ironically, Daan Hartmann had been working in the same studio for more than two decades before he made the Vermeer link.

A Dutch art restorer says this building in Delft was the studio of 17th-century painter Johannes Vermeer. (Michael Kooren -- Reuters)

Hartmann started working in the building in 1980 with the late Dutch artist Anton Pieck and another friend.

"Anton was delighted by the good lighting and he said that we must have had predecessors working in that same room, but I did not follow it up and make the Vermeer connection," he said.

The best-known Dutch painter of the period after Rembrandt, Vermeer lived in Delft until his death in 1675. He painted some 35 to 40 works, most of which are now in museums around the world, and he lived modestly from art dealing.

Archive research confirmed Vermeer rented the studio, which once belonged to a brewery and looks out on the famous Old Church of Delft, which is one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands.

Hartmann wants to open the studio to the public to take advantage of the growing number of tourists who have been coming to Delft since the success of "Girl With a Pearl Earring," a book and film that give a fictional account of Vermeer's inspiration for the painting of the same name.

Currently, visitors interested in Vermeer can see only a plaque on the site of the house where he lived and buy postcards and books in a gallery in the place where he was born in 1632.

Hartmann also wants the studio put on the UNESCO World Heritage List to preserve it for posterity.

Vermeer is best known for his meticulously realistic paintings of simple domestic scenes such as "The Milkmaid." He painted them in a studio and not at his home, where he and his wife had 15 children.

Mirrored images on paintings have allowed Philip Steadman, a professor at University College, London, to reconstruct the studio as part of his research on Vermeer's techniques.

Hartmann says he has found the real thing. And it is just next to one of his other finds -- the alleyway painted on Vermeer's "Little Street," a painting in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Hartmann, 60, is one of the few experts who can tell a real Vermeer from a fake. The art world was scandalized in 1945 when art dealer Han van Meegeren confessed to forging some Vermeers that museums had declared genuine.

Hartmann said his father had always believed that one Vermeer in a Rotterdam museum was fake but had not dared to speak out.

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