A Lady Writing a Letter, with her Maid, c.1670

Johannes Vermeer, ‘Woman writing a Letter, with her Maid’, 1670.

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)

A Lady Writing a Letter, with her Maid , c.1670

Oil on canvas, 71.1 x 60.5 cm
Presented, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987 (Beit Collection)

Considered one of the principal Dutch painters, Johannes Vermeer specialised in genre scenes, particular those depicting women in domestic settings. Vermeer’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. Vermeer’s oeuvre is unusually small. Probably as few as thirty-four pictures have survived.

A Lady Writing a Letter is one of Vermeer’s most outstanding compositions, and his most ambitious depiction of the theme of letter writing. While a maidservant is staring out of the window, her mistress is writing an epistle. In the foreground on the floor 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 objects seem to have been thrown down by the lady in some agitation.

During his lifetime, Vermeer did not sell A Lady Writing a Letter. After his death, his widow gave it and another painting to a local baker to cover her costs for bread.

Further Resources


In the media Researching Vermeer at the National Gallery of Ireland

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