The effort to rival his best works, which was out of the question for anyone else, must have tormented Vermeer, whose self-generated standards demanded a labor-intensiveness scarcely convenient for a father of eleven, working in the middling genre of domestic interiors. Most of his Dutch peers averaged fifty or so pictures a year; Vermeer clocked in with two or three …
Vermeer was about twenty-five when he painted “The Milkmaid.” That’s hard to deal with. What made him so precocious? I hazard that it was the locomotive logic of a simple stylistic idea: to recast conventional genre painting in the terms of a perceptual realism as thoroughgoing as the medium allowed. The conviction of reality that flooded his canvases extended from subtleties of light to significations of character. Loyalty to his technique drew from the artist an approximation of humane wisdom that was probably far beyond his personal capacity, as a young man. This occurs with all sufficiently disciplined creative endeavors — klutzes in life transfigured as seraphim in their work — but seldom so sublimely.
— Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker (subscription required)
Vermeer appears to have stopped painting at age forty. He died three years later. There are only thirty-six authenticated Vermeers in the world. (View a highly detailed scan of this painting here.)