After spending his whole life in Delft, Johannes Vermeer (1632 - 1675) left a small oeuvre of only thirty-six paintings. The Mauritshuis owns three paintings by Vermeer: Diana and her Nymphs; an early work depicting a mythological scene, the townscape View of Delft and the world-famous Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Vermeer was relatively unknown in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Many of his paintings could be found in important collections and were sold for high prices, but were often attributed to other artists. This changed around 1850, mainly owing to the publications by the French art critic Thore.
Girl with a Pearl Earring was not known before 1881, when it appeared at an auction held at the Venduehuis der Notarissen in The Hague. The art collector A.A. des Tombe bought the neglected painting for a mere two guilders, plus the buyer’s premium of thirty cents.
After Des Tombe’s death on 16 December 1902, it was disclosed that he had bequeathed twelve paintings to the Mauritshuis, including the Girl with a Pearl Earring.