Man Writing a Letter (NGI.4536)

Gabriel Metsu, 'Man writing a Letter', c.1664-c.1666.

Gabriel Metsu (Leiden 1629-1667 Amsterdam)

Man writing a Letter, c.1664-c.1666

Oil on wood, 52.5 x 40.2 cm
Presented, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987 (Beit Collection)


This painting and its pendant (NGI.4537) respectively show a man writing a letter and a woman reading it. Metsu presents the contrasting male and female surroundings of the Amsterdam middle classes, their objects revealing that this is a love letter. He is a ‘man about town’, in a satin suit and lace shirt with large cuffs. The silver inkstand indicates wealth and the globe his worldly pursuits. Metsu’s pastiche of an Italianate pastoral landscape on the wall is a further pointer. There is a dove on its gilt auricular frame, while the tree within it is a warning of transience and against excess. Even the bright light from the open window and the rumpled Turkish table carpet on which the man writes suggests a heated mind.

The theme of letter writing became increasingly popular in Dutch art during the 1650s. Metsu’s paintings are two of the most accomplished examples, and are his most refined achievement.