Love Letters: Dutch Genre Paintings in the Age of Vermeer

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

Love Letters: Dutch Genre Paintings in the Age of Vermeer
1st October – 31st December 2003

Millennium Wing

Supported by KPMG, Peter Mark and FS Financial

Organised by the National Gallery of Ireland and the Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, in Connecticut, this exhibition brought together over 40 masterpieces drawn from the great art museums of the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, the United States of America, and from private collections throughout the world. The central theme of the exhibition was letter writing as a genre in its own right, first depicted in the works of the great Dutch artists of the seventeenth century.

Among the masterpieces on display were Vermeer's, A lady writing (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and The love letter (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). The paintings of Vermeer and his contemporaries still hold their fascination today, not only because of their remarkable ability as painters, but also because they stir in the onlooker a curiosity to know more about the lives and emotions of their inhabitants.

Also on view were paintings by one of the greatest Dutch masters of the Golden Age, Gerard ter Borch, the artist who first popularized the letter theme. His painting, A Woman writing a Letter (Royal Cabinet of Paintings, Mauritshuis, The Hague), is considered the "perfect embodiment of this elegant new treatment of the letter theme." Masterpieces by Johannes Vermeer and Gabriel Metsu from the National Gallery's own collection were also included in the exhibition.

In a lavishly illustrated catalogue to the exhibition, Dr. Peter Sutton, Executive Director of the Bruce Museum in Connecticut, and curator of the exhibition, said the leading Dutch masters of genre painting like Vermeer, Metsu, ter Borch, and de Hooch, produced wonderful images of people reading, writing, receiving and dispatching letters. Their paintings, "document for the first time in any culture the full range and power of letters not merely as an expression of ritualistic social interaction but as a highly personal form of communication delivering pleasure, pain and a full spectrum of emotion." One artist, he added, who brought the subject of letter writing to classical perfection was Vermeer. "His world of letters is a feminine one, with women standing in the light reading letters alone with such hushed expectation that they seem to hold their breath."

Dublin was the only European venue for this enchanting show before it travelled to the USA.

Exhibition Catalogue:
Love Letters: Dutch Genre Paintings in the Age of Vermeer
© 2003 Bruce Museum; National Gallery of Ireland: Peter C. Sutton, Lisa Vergara, Ann Jensen Adams. Editor Fronia W. Simpson
Published by Yale University Press in conjunction with The Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, Connecticut, and the National Gallery of Ireland
ISBN 0-9720736-6-3