The subject of writing and receiving letters, which recurs frequently in Vermeer’s work, is given an exceptional sense of dramatic tension in this painting of two women arrested in some moment of mysterious crisis. The lack of final modeling in the mistress’ head and figure and the relatively plain background indicate that this late work by Vermeer was left unfinished. Nevertheless, the artist seldom if ever surpassed the subtly varied effects of light seen here as it gleams from the pearl jewelry, sparkles from the glass and silver objects on the table, and falls softly over the figures in their shadowy setting. Bought by Mr. Frick in 1919, the year of his death, this painting was his last purchase and joined Rembrandt’s "Self-Portrait," Holbein’s "Sir Thomas More," Bellini’s "St. Francis," and Velázquez’ "King Philip IV" among his favorite acquisitions.


  • Title: Mistress and Maid
  • Creator: Johannes Vermeer
  • Date Created: ca. 1666−67
  • Physical Dimensions: 90.2 x 78.7 cm
  • Provenance: Possibly Vermeer sale, 1696, Amsterdam, Lot 7, sold for 70 florins. Lebrun sale, March 22, 1810, Paris, Lot 143, sold for 601 francs to Chevallier. Paillet sale, 1818, Paris, sold for 460 francs. Duchesse de Berri sale, April 4–6, 1837, Paris, Lot 76, sold for 4,015 francs. Dufour, Marseilles (1859). E. Secrétan sale, July 1, 1889, Paris, Lot 139, sold for 75,000 francs to Sedelmeyer. A. Paulovtsof, St. Petersburg. Lawrie and Co. Sulley and Co., London (1905). James Simon, Berlin. Knoedler. Frick, 1919. Source: "Paintings in The Frick Collection: American, British, Dutch, Flemish and German." Volume I. New York: The Frick Collection, 1968.
  • Type: Painting
  • External Link: See more on The Frick Collection website
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more

Flash this QR Code to get the app
Google apps