According to the Netherlands Institute for Art History (Dutch RKD-Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis), Vrel was a member of the same "school" or artistic style as Pieter de Hooch, showing simple intimate scenes of daily life in towns, often including studies in perspective. Though no evidence for a specific "school" exists, the center of influence seems to have been in the artistic centers of Haarlem and Delft, for artists born during the years 1620–1630. The painters listed by the RKD in this category are Esaias Boursse, Hendrick van der Burgh, Pieter de Hooch, Pieter Janssens Elinga, Cornelis de Man, Hendrick ten Oever, and Jacob Vrel. Seymour Slive names Vrel as among "those whose works have been confused with" Pieter de Hooch.
Vrel's birthplace is unknown but he is considered to have worked in Delft and Haarlem. He is also referred to as Jan instead of Jacob(us) and known alternative spellings of his surname are Frel, Frelle, Vreele, Vrelle, and Vriel. His works are sometimes confused with those by Esaias Boursse.
Thirty-eight to forty paintings have been attributed to Vrel. A retrospective exhibition curated by Berndt Ebert of the Alte Pinakothek, in collaboration with the Fondation Custodia in Paris and the Mauritshuis in The Hague, opens late 2020. Among the public collections holding works by the artist in their permanent collections are:
- Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam: Alleyway in a Dutch Town; Woman in Front of a Stove
- Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp: The Little Sick Nurse
- Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels: Interior with a Woman and a Child
- Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne: Interior with an Old Woman
- Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit: Interior
- Groninger Museum, Groningen: Interior with a Man by a Fireplace
- Kunstthalle Hamburg: Street Corner
- Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille: The Weaver's Workshop
- Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid: Interior with Woman at a Stove
- Ashmolean Museum, Oxford: The Little Nurse
- Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia: Street Scene, mid-17th century
- Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg: Street Scene
- San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego: The Little Sick Nurse
- Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna: Woman at a Window
- National Gallery of Art, Washington: Young Woman in an Interior, ca. 1660.
- Heylshof Museum, Worms: Two Cottage Women Conversing
- Museum de Fundatie, Zwolle: Interior with a Busy Woman, 1650.
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- Genre De Hooch school in the RKD
- Slive, Seymour (1995). Dutch Painting 1600–1800. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 158. ISBN 0300074514.
- Jacob Vrel in the RKD
- Honig, Elizabeth Alice (1996). "Vrel, Jacobus". In Turner, Jane (ed.). The Dictionary of Art. 32. London: Macmillan. p. 728. ISBN 1884446000.
- Bakker, Piet. Wheelock, Arthur K. Jr. (ed.). "Jacobus Vrel". The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
- "Jacobus Vrel, 13 October 2020–10 January 2021". CODART. 26 July 2019. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
- Théophile Thoré. "Van der Meer de Delft." Gazette des beaux-arts [suppl. is Chron. A.] 21 (1866): 458–470.
- Clotilde Brière-Misme. "Un 'Intimiste' hollandais: Jacob Vrel." Revue de l’art ancien et moderne 68 (1935): 97–114, 157–172.
- Gérard Regnier. "Jacob Vrel, un Vermeer du pauvre." Gazette des beaux-arts [suppl. is Chron. A.] n.s. 6, 71 (1968): 269–282.
- Peter Sutton, ed. Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting (exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin; Royal Academy, London, 1984): 352–354.
- Elizabeth Honig: "Looking in(to) Jacob Vrel." Yale Journal of Criticism 3, no. 1 (Fall, 1989): 37–56.