Studio of Johannes Vermeer, "Girl with a Flute" (c. 1669/1675), oil on panel, 7 7/8 x 7 inches, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection (all images courtesy National Gallery of Art)

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, announced on Friday that one of its prized paintings attributed to Johannes Vermeer, “Girl with a Flute” (c. 1669/1675), was not created by the famous Dutch artist, but instead by an unidentified student or associate.

Using microscopic analysis and imaging methods including X-rays, a National Gallery team comprising conservators, curators, and imaging scientists studied the museum’s four Vermeers in 2020 and 2021, while the museum was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic (normally, all four paintings are on view).

Johannes Vermeer, “Girl with the Red Hat” (c. 1669), oil on panel, 9 x 7 1/16 inches, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Collection

The team compared the museum’s two paintings on wood panels: “Girl with a Flute”(c. 1669/1675) and “Girl with the Red Hat” (c. 1669). The researchers discovered that the first work was painted by “someone who understood the Dutch artist’s process and materials but was unable to completely master them,” according to the museum’s press release. The painting’s top pigment is more coarsely ground than that of the authentic “Girl with the Red Hat,” and the brush work is “awkward.”

The discovery implies that Vermeer worked with other artists and had a studio. There are only about 35 known Vermeers in the world.

“The existence of other artists working with Johannes Vermeer is perhaps one of the most significant new findings about the artist to be discovered in decades,” National Gallery of Art Director Kaywin Feldman stated in a press release. “It fundamentally changes our understanding of Vermeer.”

The National Gallery’s Vermeer’s Secrets exhibition opened Saturday, October 8 and is on view through January 8, 2023.

Kathryn Delaney, imaging scientist, and John K. Delaney, senior imaging scientist, examine “Girl with the Red Hat.” (c. 1669)

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.