Gabriel Metsu, Dutch, 1629-1667
Title: Man Writing a Letter
Date: 1664-1666
Medium: Oil on wood panel
Dimensions:
52.5 x 40.2 cm
Credit Line: Presented, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987 (Beit Collection)
Object Number: NGI.4536
DescriptionAlthough he began his career as a painter of religious subjects, Metsu became one of the most accomplished specialists of depictions of daily life in his time. His oeuvre shows great variety, as he easily adopted subjects and styles from other artists and transformed them into new compositions.
This painting and its counterpart, Woman Reading a Letter (ngi.4537), are Metsu’s most famous works and belong to the finest Dutch genre paintings produced in the seventeenth century. Both pictures reveal the influence of Johannes Vermeer, whose work Metsu may have known through a visit to Vermeer’s workshop in Delft or, more likely, from seeing them at the house of Pieter Claesz van Ruyven, a local collector who probably owned up to 20 paintings by Vermeer. The theme of letter writing enjoyed great popularity among Dutch genre painters of the 1650s–60s. In this painting, the man is in the process of writing a letter; presumably for the lady represented in its pendant. The man’s fashionable black costume and the Persian carpet on the table suggest that he is well-to-do. The globe behind the window underscores his erudition.

March 2016




ProvenanceAmsterdam, 28 March 1720, Hendrick Sorgh sale, lot 29 (fl. 560 with its pendant); Amsterdam, 16 March 1724, G. Bruyn sale (fl. 785 with its pendant); Johannes Coop; Gerrit Braamcamp, Amsterdam, c.1744-1750; Amsterdam, 31 July 1771, G. Braamcamp sale,no. 125 (fl. 5205 with its pendant), bt. Jan Hope; Jan Hope; Lord Francis Pelham Clinton Hope, Deepdene, thence by descent; the collection purchased en bloc by A. Wertheimer and P. & D. Colnaghi, 1898; Sir Alfred Beit, London and Blessington; presented, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987 (Beit Collection)
Exhibition HistoryBritish Gallery, London, 1815

British Institution, London, 1849

British Institution, London, 1865

Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1881

The Hope Collection of Pictures of the Dutch and Flemish Schools, South Kensington Museum, London, 1891

Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1900

Exhibition of Dutch Masters of the Seventeenth Century, Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, 1900

Exhibition in Aid of National Funds, Messrs. Colnaghi and Obach's Gallery, London, 1914-1915

Dutch Art 1450-1900, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1929

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

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

Gabriel Metsu, Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal, Leiden, 22 June - 5 September 1966

Tot Leering en Vermaak: betekenissen van Hollandse genrevoorstellingen uit de zeventiende eeuw, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1976

Acquisitions 1986-88, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, June - July 1988

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

Gabriel Metsu, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 4 September - 5 December 2010; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 16 December 2010 - 21 March 2011; National Gallery of Art, Washington, 17 April - 24 July 2011

Johannes Vermeer and the Golden Age of Dutch Art, Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome, 26 September 2012 - 20 January 2013

Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, Musée du Louvre, Paris, 20 February 2017 - 22 May 2017: National Gallery of Art , Washington, 22 October 2017 - 21 January 2018

Making the Difference: Vermeer and Dutch Art, Hata Stichting Foundation, The Ueno Royal Museum, Tokyo, 05 October 2018 - 03 February 2019

Making the Difference: Vermeer and Dutch Art, Hata Stichting Foundation, The Ueno Royal Museum, Tokyo, 16 February 2019 - 12 May 2019: Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts, Osaka, 16 February 2019 - 12 May 2019
Label TextMetsu was one of the most accomplished and versatile genre painters of his time. This painting and its counterpart, Woman Reading a Letter, are his most famous works and belong to the finest Dutch genre paintings produced in the seventeenth century. Both pictures reveal the influence of Johannes Vermeer. The theme of letter writing enjoyed great popularity among Dutch genre painters of the 1650s–60s. This painting depicts a gentleman writing a letter for the lady who is represented in its companion piece. The man’s fashionable black costume and the Persian carpet on the table suggest that he is well-to-do.