Texte de Tracy Chevalier


The scene is set in the 17th century. The painter referred to is Vermeer.
« He did not work on the painting of me every day. He had the concert to paint as well, with or without van Ruijven and his women. He painted around them when they were not there, or asked me to take the place of one of the women – the girl sitting at the harpsichord, the woman standing next to it singing from a sheet of paper. I did not wear their clothes. He simply wanted a body there. Sometimes the two women came without van Ruijven, and that was when he worked best. Van Ruijven himself was a difficult model. I could hear him when I was working in the attic. He could not sit still, and wanted to talk and play his lute. My master was patient with him, as he would be with a child, but sometimes I could hear a tone creep into his voice and knew that he would go out that night to the tavern, returning with eyes like glittering spoons. I sat for him for the other painting three or four times a week, for an hour or two each time. It was the part of the week I liked best, with his eyes on only me for those hours. I did not mind that it was not an easy pose to hold, that looking sideways for long periods of time gave me headaches. I did not mind when sometimes he had me move my head again and again so that the yellow cloth swung around, so that he could paint me looking as if I had just turned to face him. I did whatever he asked of me. He was not happy, though. February passed and March arrived, with its days of ice and sun, and he was not happy. He had been working on the painting for almost two months, and though I had not seen it, I thought it must be close to done. He was no longer having me mix quantities of colour for it, but used tiny amounts and made few movements with his brushes as I sat. I had thought I understood how he wanted me to be, but now I was not sure. Sometimes he simply sat and looked at me as if he were waiting for me to do something. Then he was not like a painter, but like a man, and it was hard to look at him. One day he announced suddenly, as I was sitting in my chair,"This will satisfy van Ruijven, but not me." I did not know what to say. I could not help him if I had not seen the painting. "May I look at the painting, sir?" He gazed at me curiously. "Perhaps I can help," I added, then wished I had not. I was afraid I had become too bold. "All right," he said after a moment. I got up and stood behind him. He did not turn round, but sat very still. I could hear him breathing slowly and steadily. The painting was like none of his others. It was just of me, of my head and shoulders, with no tables or curtains, no windows or powderbrushes to soften and distract. He had painted me with my eyes wide, the light falling across my face but the left side of me in shadow. I was wearing blue and yellow and brown. The cloth wound round my head made me look not like myself, but like Griet from another town, from another country altogether. The background was black, making me appear very much alone, although I was clearly looking at someone. I seemed to be waiting for something I did not think would ever happen. He was right – the painting might satisfy van Ruijven, but something was missing from it. I knew before he did. When I saw what was needed – that point of brightness he had used to catch the eye in other paintings – I shivered. This will be the end, I thought. I was right. This time I did not try to help him as I had with the painting of van Ruijven's wife writing a letter. I did not creep into the studio and change things. […] He would find it for himself anyway. It took longer than I had expected. I sat for him twice more before he discovered what was missing. Each time he painted with a dissatisfied look on his face, and dismissed me early. I waited. »
Tracy Chevalier, The Girl With A Pearl Earring, 2000

1. Give the narrator's name.
a) How many paintings are mentioned in the text?
b) Briefly describe each painting. (30 words in all)
a) In which season of the year does the scene take place?
b) In which month did the painter start the painting of the narrator?
4. Compare the narrator and van Ruijven in their attitudes as models. (30 words)
5. Quote two elements from the text that show that the narrator is not on an equal footing with the artist.
6. When the narrator speaks, he/she never uses contracted forms. Why not? (20 words)
7. "… he had me move my head again and again…"". What does the form used here show about the relationship between the narrator and the painter? (20 words)
8. What shows that their relationship is not simply that of a painter and his model? Quote the text to support your answer. (30 words)
"… its days of ice and sun…"
a) What effect is produced here? (20 words)
b) How does this echo the moods of the narrator and the painter? (30 words)
10. "He was not happy, though.". Explain why. (30 words)
11. Quote the text to show what the narrator thinks is missing from the painting.
12. Why do you think the narrator refuses to tell the painter? (30 words)
a) In the description of "the other painting" why does the artist choose not to paint certain objects? (30 words)
b) What feelings for the model are communicated through the artist's painting? (30 words)
14. How can you relate the title of the novel and the extract? (20 words)
Answer one of the following questions (200 words).
1. Is art necessary to man? What needs does it fulfill in man?
2. Do you have an artistic hobby? Write about it. If not, which art would you choose and why?
Translate from "I got up…" to "… think would even happen".


1. The narrator's name is Griet.
a) Three paintings are mentioned in the text.
b) One of the paintings represents a girl sitting at a harpsichord, a woman singing and a man. Another one is a portrait of Griet. The other one represents van Ruijven's wife writing a letter.
a) The scene takes place in winter.
b) The painter started the painting of the narrator in December.
4. On the one hand, van Ruijven is a difficult and impatient model as he can't sit still. On the other hand Griet enjoys sitting for her master and being the centre of attention. Contrary to van Ruijven, she can stay still even when she is asked to hold a difficult pose.
  • "My master"
  • "May I look at the painting, Sir?"
6. The narrator never uses contracted forms first because she must stand in awe of her master, then because if she did she would sound too familiar and finally, the scene takes place in the 17th century, a period of time when language was more formal.
7. The form used shows that Vermeer had a great power over his model, he could have her do whatever he wanted even if the poses were difficult or very uncomfortable and she simply obeyed without complaining.
8. Needless to say that not only is she a model for the painter but she also admires him and even loves him, this is clear since she feels uneasy when she is in front of him even though it is not a problem for her to hold difficult poses. "He was not like a painter, but like a man, and it was hard to look at him."
a) The effect produced is a sharp contrast thanks to the opposition of these elements that do not match.
b) Each element can be related to one character. The ice may represent the painter's mood and his cold-hearted attitude due to the distance between the servant and the master whereas the sun can be related to the model and her love for him.
10. He is dissatisfied although he has been working on the painting for two months. He can see that something is missing and he cannot admit it. For him, the result is not acceptable.
11. "… that point of brightness he had used to catch the eye in other paintings …"
12. She refuses to tell the painter, she is reluctant and doesn't dare to tell the painter as he is his master and she is only his model. Telling him would be too daring and out of place from her.
a) He chose not to paint certain objects to focus on the face so that anything else around the model would not interfere with the spectator's attention. The aim is to make people concentrate on the face and nothing else.
b) As the painter has worked for two months on her portrait, she must have captivated him by her charm and he has probably fallen in love with her. He must be obsessed by her.
14. The pearl earring is the missing element of the painting. The painting won't be finished as long as the earring is not painted.
1. Men have always tried to express themselves through various forms of art. The early men painted on the walls of their caves, then built huge stone constructions like the pyramids, sculpted figurines and tall statues, composed magnificent pieces of music. Art is not only a product of man's imagination that differentiates him from the animal world, but it has shaped societies and civilisations in such a way as to become the hallmark of mankind.
Each civilization has its specific art form but all arise from a spiritual or religious faith at first, then mingled with a keen aesthetic awareness, art has evolved from pagan or Christian expression to a sophisticated attempt to create beauty for beauty's sake. The history of art is the history of man and art is necessary to life as the water we drink or the air we breathe. One may argue that some artistic devices were developed to fulfil a clear and practical purpose like the art of rhetoric that helps the speaker to get his arguments across and convince people. However why did the Greek potters paint the vessels they made, why does the glassblower give such elegant shapes to his vases and glasses or the cook prepare such elaborate dishes if not to fulfil a particular need in us?
Some human beings have in them an instinctive impulse to write music or poetry, but all humans enjoy some sorts of music, of stories or cuisine. Besides it has been proved that music and colours have a therapeutic impact that soothes our lives in some circumstances, calm us down and keep us sane.
Finally, the whole modern world is so pervaded with art that it plays an economic role which holds society together. So many jobs or activities are associated with art that it is part of the fabric of society, for example, clothes are said to reflect a man's personality; hence the importance of fashion in our life. Can't we all agree, whether we believe in god or not, that man himself, nature and the whole of the universe is a wonderful work of art?
2. Rédaction personnelle. Pensez à donner des exemples pour votre argumentation.
Je me levai et me plaçai derrière lui. Il ne se retourna pas mais resta assis immobile.
J'entendais sa respiration lente et régulière.
Le tableau ne ressemblait à aucun autre. Il ne représentait que moi, ma tête, mes épaules, sans tables, sans rideaux, sans fenêtres, sans houppettes, rien pour adoucir et distraire le regard. Il m'avait peinte les yeux grands ouverts, la lumière tombait sur mon visage mais le côté gauche était dans l'ombre. Je portais du bleu, du jaune et du marron. L'étoffe enroulée autour de ma tête me faisait ressembler à une autre que moi-même, à la Griet d'une autre ville, et même d'un autre pays. Le fond était noir et donnait l'impression que j'étais très seule même si de toute évidence je regardais quelqu'un. Je semblais attendre quelque chose dont je savais que cela n'arriverait jamais.