Tag Archives: The Milkmaid by Vermeer

#FineArtFriday: The Milkmaid, by Johannes Vermeer #laborday

In America, the first Monday in September is Labor Day, the last long weekend of summer. The weather is still warm, and many people will be enjoying the last big holiday of the summer, barbecuing or camping out. Many will be traveling long distances and staying in hotels.

Because Labor Day is a national holiday, many workers will have Monday off. But those who work in the hospitality industry and in food service will be working overtime, making the holiday good for everyone else. People in the retail industry will also be working long hours, as the last big sales before Halloween will be in effect.

Over the course of my life, I have worked in a wide variety of jobs, most of them paying a low wage. By the mid-nineties, things were easier. As a bookkeeper/office manager I made $7.50 an hour (two dollars over minimum at the time) but I worked less than 30 hours a week with no benefits whatsoever. On weekends and holidays, I worked as a hotel housekeeper in a union shop, making $8.50 (three dollars over minimum), working about 20 hours a week. That gave me enough income from the two jobs to live on and provide for my children.

While I was raising my children, no matter what job I had during the week, I kept my weekend job at the hotel, because when other jobs went away, I always had that one to fall back on.

Only hotel housekeepers with the highest seniority will work a forty hour week. The rest average twenty to thirty hours a week because people travel on weekends more than they do during the week, and certain times of the year are less traveled than others. We maids and laundry workers would have had nothing more than minimum wage without the union. Because of the union, we who did the dirty work earned a little more than those who worked at non-union hotels, and we had a few benefits such as health insurance and a 401k to set aside a little money for our retirement.

Not every union is good, and not every union is reasonable. But I have gratitude that my family and I were protected by a good, reasonable labor organization during those years that were such a struggle for me. Every worker deserves that his/her employer treats them with respect and a fair wage in return for their labor.

As we entered the new millennium, the entry-level job market had improved, and I joined the ranks of Corporate America. Working in the data entry pool for several large corporations over the next few years, I earned enough to give up my part-time job as a hotel maid.

I now have the luxury to live my dream, writing the books that I always wanted to write when I didn’t have the time. And while the world is a different place in many ways than it was in the 1980s, someone still must do the dirty jobs, the work that no one else wants. These people are heroes.

I have nothing but respect for those people who work long hard hours in all areas of the service industry, struggling to support their families. Look around you and see the people who make your life easier just by being there every day doing their job.

Every one of them is a person just like you, a living, caring human being with hopes, ambitions, triumphs, and tragedies. Every one of them has a story and a reason to be where they are, doing the task they have been given. Most love what they do and do the best job that they can.

Take the time to say a little “thank you” to all those women and men who take your unintentional abuse when you are stressed out and “don’t have time to wait,” or are upset by things you have no control over and need to vent at someone who can’t or won’t fight back. Give a little thanks to those who do the dirty work and enable you to live a little easier.


About Johannes Vermeer, the Master of Light (from Wikipedia)

Johannes Vermeer (October 1632 – December 1675) was a Dutch painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime but evidently was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.

Vermeer worked slowly and with great care, and frequently used very expensive pigments. He is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.

Vermeer painted mostly domestic interior scenes. “Almost all his paintings are apparently set in two smallish rooms in his house in Delft; they show the same furniture and decorations in various arrangements and they often portray the same people, mostly women.”

He was recognized during his lifetime in Delft and The Hague, but his modest celebrity gave way to obscurity after his death. He was barely mentioned in Arnold Houbraken‘s major source book on 17th-century Dutch painting (Grand Theatre of Dutch Painters and Women Artists), and was thus omitted from subsequent surveys of Dutch art for nearly two centuries. In the 19th century, Vermeer was rediscovered by Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Théophile Thoré-Bürger, who published an essay attributing 66 pictures to him, although only 34 paintings are universally attributed to him today. Since that time, Vermeer’s reputation has grown, and he is now acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.

About the featured painting, The Milkmaid, also from Wikipedia:

Despite its traditional title, the picture clearly shows a kitchen or housemaid, a low-ranking indoor servant, rather than a milkmaid who actually milks the cow, in a plain room carefully pouring milk into a squat earthenware container (now commonly known as a “Dutch oven”) on a table. Also on the table are various types of bread. She is a young, sturdily built woman wearing a crisp linen cap, a blue apron and work sleeves pushed up from thick forearms. A foot warmer is on the floor behind her, near Delft wall tiles depicting Cupid (to the viewer’s left) and a figure with a pole (to the right). Intense light streams from the window on the left side of the canvas.

The painting is strikingly illusionistic, conveying not just details but a sense of the weight of the woman and the table. “The light, though bright, doesn’t wash out the rough texture of the bread crusts or flatten the volumes of the maid’s thick waist and rounded shoulders”, wrote Karen Rosenberg, an art critic for The New York Times. Yet with half of the woman’s face in shadow, it is “impossible to tell whether her downcast eyes and pursed lips express wistfulness or concentration,” she wrote.

“It’s a little bit of a Mona Lisa effect” in modern viewers’ reactions to the painting, according to Walter Liedtke, curator of the department of European paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and organizer of two Vermeer exhibits. “There’s a bit of mystery about her for modern audiences. She is going about her daily task, faintly smiling. And our reaction is ‘What is she thinking?'”


Credits and Attributions:

The Milkmaid, by Johannes (Jan) Vermeer ca. 1658 [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Wikipedia contributors, “The Milkmaid (Vermeer),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Milkmaid_(Vermeer)&oldid=853243011 (accessed August 31, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “Johannes Vermeer,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Johannes_Vermeer&oldid=854172655 (accessed August 31, 2018).

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