The characteristic palette of lead-tin yellow, ultramarine blue and white lead of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) is shown in the Dutch genre painting "The Milkmaid" (c. 1658-1661). The rustic yellow garment worn by the milkmaid is painted much in the same manner as the woman's down-turned face. On close inspection it can be seen that the paint is applied as a repeated series of briskly applied dabs of various shades of yellow and brown, a technique which matches to the rough texture of the garment. The bright blue edge of the woman's apron is created by the luminosity of the underlying white layer, with Vermeer applying a thick transparent layer of ultramarine over a vigorously defined monochrome underpainting to achieve this effect. The blue is strongest in the shadowed apron and less vivid in the tablecloth. The blue and yellow together dominate the painting, as a pair of contrasting colours. A red glaze is used as an underpaint in the flesh colour of the maid's right hand. It is followed by an ochre layer, followed by a pink layer in the highlights. The bread is painted in three layers. The lowest thick layer is white lead. Over this there is a thinnish red glaze through which peaks of lumps from the lower layer protrude as white specks. Then finally there are more highlight with small dots of whitish-yellow paint on the red glaze.
The art historian Theophile Thoré "discovered" the painting, in the Six family mansion in Amsterdam: next to the state collection in Trippenhuis, the Six collection was one of the most important attractions of the Dutch capital in the second half of the 19th Century, enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people, and after Jonkheer P. H. Six van Vromade (1827-1905) died in summer 1905, there was an agreement that in principle 39 paintings in the family estate would be acquired by the Rembrandt Society. The sum required was, however, not raised and it was then resolved in a vote by the Dutch Parliament that the government should purchase the Six collection, and in 1908, the 39 paintings including "The Milkmaid" went on public display in the Rijksmuseum.
- 1696 - Offered for sale with the description "A Girl pouring milk, extremely well done", along with other Vermeer works identifiable from the catalogue as View of Delft and The Little Street: it sold for 175 guilders.
- 12 April 1719 - At a sale it was described as, "The famous Milkmaid, by Vermeer of Delft, artful."
- 12 September 1798 - De Bruyn sale, Amsterdam. It was called "This excellent and beautiful scene.... Light falling, through a window at the side, gives a miraculously natural effect, the painting is of vigorous colour, and excellent for the handling of the brush."