Girl Interrupted at her Music, 1658 by Johannes Vermeer

Most Dutch genre painters favored scenes which included some specific action. In Jan Steen's Music Master of about 1659 or Frans van Mieris's The Duet of 1658, for example, figures are engrossed in each other and in the making of music. In each instance a young attendant enters the room, adding to the level of activity. Vermeer, in a number of paintings from the end of the 1650s, sought to achieve similar effects in his multifigured genre paintings. His results, however, were mixed at best. In Officer and Laughing Girl, his attempts at rendering an action, whether it be laughing, drinking, or smiling, resulted in rather forced and artificial poses.

In the Girl Interrupted at Her Music Vermeer arrived at a solution for this problem: the momentary interruption. This device allowed him to suggest movement without the need for specific gestures and facial expressions that conflicted with the essential stillness of his compositions. In this painting the gentleman and the girl make a compact group as his form gently enfolds hers. She, however, rather than concentrating on the music they hold, looks out at the viewer. Her expression is alert and expectant, but not forced. Light falls gently across her face and on her white headpiece, accenting her gaze.