Johannes Vermeer, Dutch, 1632-1675
Title: Woman Writing a Letter, with her Maid
Date: c.1670
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
71.1 x 60.5 cm
Signed: centre right: JvMeer
Credit Line: Presented, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987 (Beit Collection)
Object Number: NGI.4535
DescriptionConsidered one of the principal Dutch painters, Vermeer specialised in genre scenes, many of which depict women in domestic settings. His work displays an unprecedented level of artistic mastery in its illusion of reality. His figures are often quiet and inactive, which contributes to the solemn and mysterious atmosphere of his paintings. Vermeer’s oeuvre is unusually small; probably as few as 36 pictures have survived.
Woman Writing a Letter is one of the artist’s most outstanding compositions and his most ambitious depiction of the theme of letter writing. While a maidservant gazes out of a window, her mistress writes an epistle. On the floor in the foreground lie a red seal, a stick of sealing wax and an object which is either a letter with a crumpled wrapper or a letter-writing manual, a standard aid for personal correspondence at the time. In either case, the suggestion is that the objects have been discarded by the lady in some agitation.
During his lifetime, Vermeer did not sell Woman Writing a Letter. After his death, his widow gave it and another painting to a local baker to cover her costs for bread.

March 2016
ProvenanceCatharina Bolnes, widow of Vermeer, Delft, 1676; Hendrick van Buyten, Delft, 1676-1701; Josua van Belle, Rotterdam, before 1710; Ida Catharina van der Meyden, widow of van Belle, Rotterdam, 1710-1729; Rotterdam, 6 September 1730, van Belle sale, lot 92; Franco van Bleyswijk, Delft, 1734; by descent to Catharina van der Burch, married to Hendrick van Slingelandt, The Hague, 1761-1775; possibly Barthout van Slingelandt, Dordrecht, 1771-1798; Viktor von Miller zu Aichholz, Vienna, before 1881; Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris, 6 April 1881; E. Secrétan, Paris, 1881-1889; Paris, 1 June 1889, Secretan sale, lot 140; to Boussod, Valadon & Cie.; Marinoni Collection, Paris; F. Kleinberger, Paris; Alfred Beit, London, c.1895-1906; Sir Otto Beit Bt, London, 1906-1930; Sir Alfred Beit, 2nd Bt, London and (from 1952) Blessington, Russborough, near Dublin (1930-1986, when the painting was stolen, the painting was recovered in 1993); presented, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987
Exhibition HistoryDutch Art 1450-1900, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1929

Vermeer, oorsprong en invloed Frabritius, De Hooch, De Witte, Museum Boijmans, Rotterdam, 9 July - 9 October 1935

Seventeenth Century Art in Europe, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1938

Old Master Paintings from the Beit Collection, National Gallery of South Africa, Cape town, 1949-1950

Dutch Painting - The Golden Age, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Toledo Museum, Toledo; The Art Gallery of Toronto, Toronto, 1954-1955

Paintings from Irish Collections, Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, 1957

In the light of Vermeer - five centuries of Painting, Mauritshuis, The Hague; Orangerie, Paris, 1966

Johannes Vermeer, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 12 November 1995 - 11 February, 1996; Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1 March - 2 June 1996

The Glory of the Golden Age. Dutch Art of the 17th Century: Paintings, Sculpture and Decorative Art, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam 2000

Love Letters: Dutch Genre Paintings in the Age of Vermeer, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 1 October - 31 December 2003; Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, Greenwich, Connecticut, 31 January - 2 May 2004

Vermeer and the Delft Style, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, 2 August - 14 December 2008

Communication: Visualising the Human Connection in the Age of Vermeer, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, Kyoto, 25 June - 16 October 2011; Miyagi Museum of Art, 27 October - 12 December 2011; The Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo, 23 December 2011 - 14 March 2012

Lines of Vision. Irish Writers at the National Gallery of Ireland, 8 October 2014 —12 April 2015

The Collection in Dialogue – An Exhibition Honouring the Städel Foundation on its 200th Birthday, Städel Museum, Frankfurt, 7 October 2015 - 24 January 2016
Label TextVermeer’s work displays an unprecedented level of artistic mastery in its illusion of reality. His figures are often quiet and inactive, which contributes to the solemn and mysterious atmosphere of his paintings. This painting is one of Vermeer’s most ingenious compositions of his late career. While a maidservant stares out of a window, her mistress writes a letter. In the foreground on the floor, lie a red seal, a stick of sealing wax and an object which is probably a letter-writing manual, a standard aid for personal correspondence at the time.