Oil painting of a woman writing a letter at a table with a maid standing beside her
Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), 'Woman Writing a Letter, with her Maid', c.1670. Image © National Gallery of IrelandCredit

Woman Writing a Letter, with her Maid by Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)

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

Vermeer’s work displays an unprecedented level of artistic mastery in its illusion of reality. His figures are often quiet and inactive, contributing to the solemn and mysterious atmosphere of his paintings. This painting is one of the most ingenious compositions of Vermeer’s 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, often used for personal correspondence at the time.