Above all, Johannes Vermeer was a painter of light. In this exquisite painting, diffused light softly illuminates the tabletop, the woman’s face, and her rich lemon-yellow morning jacket. Accents on the pearls decorating her jewelry box, her earrings, and her satin hair ribbons further enliven the image. The woman’s open gaze engages the viewer, which suggests that the painting may be a portrait instead of a generalized portrayal of a young woman at her writing table.

Johannes Vermeer became a master in the Saint Luke’s Guild of Delft on December 29, 1653. At that time he specialized in history painting, and his first works were large-scale mythological and religious paintings. Shortly thereafter he began to paint the genre scenes, landscapes, and allegories for which he has become so renowned. Even though Vermeer's subject matter changed in the mid-1650s, he continued to imbue his later works with the quiet, intimate moods he had preferred in his early history paintings. His oeuvre is small: only 35 paintings are currently attributed to the master.


  • Title: A Lady Writing
  • Creator: Johannes Vermeer
  • Date Created: c. 1665
  • Physical Dimensions: overall: 45 x 39.9 cm (17 11/16 x 15 11/16 in.) framed: 68.3 x 62.2 x 7 cm (26 7/8 x 24 1/2 x 2 3/4 in.)
  • Provenance: Possibly Pieter Claesz van Ruijven [1624-1674], Delft; possibly by inheritance to his wife, Maria de Knuijt [d. 1681]; possibly by inheritance to her daughter, Magdalena van Ruijven [1655-1682], Delft; possibly by inheritance to her husband, Jacobus Abrahamsz. Dissius [1653-1695], Delft;[1] (his sale, Amsterdam, 16 May 1696, no. 35).[2] J. van Buren, The Hague; (his sale, Bernardus Scheurleer, The Hague, 7-12 November 1808, 6th day [12 Nov.], no. 22 of the paintings). Dr. Cornelis Jan Luchtmans [1777-1860], Rotterdam; (his sale, by Mierop, Muys van Leen, and Lamme, Rotterdam, 20 and 22 April 1816, 1st day, no. 90); J. Kamermans, Rotterdam; (his sale, by A. Lamme, Rotterdam, 3 October 1825, no. 70); Lelie.[3] Hendrik Reydon; (his sale, by J. de Vries, A. Brondgeest, E.M. Engelberts, and C.F. Roos, Amsterdam, 5-6 April 1827, no. 26). François-Xavier, comte de Robiano [1778-1836], Brussels; (his estate sale, Hotel du Défunt, Brussels, 1 May 1837 and days following, no. 436); purchased by Héris for François-Xavier's son. Ludovic, comte de Robiano [1807-1887], Brussels; by inheritance to Ludovic's heirs, possibly his daughter and only child, Jeanne [1835-1900] and her husband, Gustave, baron de Senzeilles de Soumagne [1824-1906], until 1906;[4] (J. & A. LeRoy, Brussels); purchased 1907 by J. Pierpont Morgan [1837-1913], New York; by inheritance to his son, J. P. Morgan, Jr. [1867-1943], New York; consigned 1935-1939 to, and purchased 1940 by (M. Knoedler & Co., New York); sold 1940 to Sir Harry Oakes [1874-1943], Nassau, Bahamas; by gift or inheritance to his wife, Lady Eunice Myrtle McIntyre Oakes [c. 1894-1981], Nassau, Bahamas; consigned 1946 to (M. Knoedler & Co., New York);[5] sold 1946 to Horace Havemeyer [1886-1956], New York; by inheritance to his sons, Harry Waldron Havemeyer [b. 1929], New York, and Horace Havemeyer, Jr. [1914-1990], New York;[6] gift 1962 to NGA. [1] The 1683 inventory of goods accruing to Jacob Dissius after the death of his wife Magdalena van Ruyven lists twenty paintings by Vermeer. For the complete transactions between her husband Jacob Dissius and his father Abraham Dissius following her death, see John Michael Montias, _Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History_, Princeton, 1989: 246-257, 359-361, docs. 417, 420. [2] For this sale see Michael Montias, _Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History_, Princeton, 1989: 363-364, doc. 439. [3] This name is recorded in an annotated copy of the sale catalogue in the NGA Library. [4] This is suggested by the Getty Provenance Index© Databases, Public Collections, record 17464. [5] The Knoedler’s consignment numbers were CA 1503 (from Morgan) and CA 2758 (from Lady Oakes), per the Getty Provenance Index© Databases, Public Collections, record 17464. [6] Harry W. Havemeyer (correspondence 12 August 2010) indicated that Vermeer’s painting hung over the fireplace in the library of their residence at 720 Park Avenue, but emphasized that the fireplace, therefore, was never used. He wrote that his father probably had first admired the painting at the Hudson-Fulton exhibition in 1909, and was pleased to be able to acquire it from Knoedler’s when it was offered to him in 1946. Harry and Horace Havemeyer decided to donate the painting to the National Gallery of Art because of their father’s admiration for the Gallery and its director John Walker.
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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