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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.

From the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland.

Details

  • Title: Woman Writing a Letter, with her Maid
  • Creator: Johannes Vermeer
  • Date Created: c.1670
  • Physical Dimensions: h71.1 x w58.5 cm
  • Provenance: Catharina Bolnes, Vermeer’s widow, Delft, 1675, who gave the painting on 27 January 1676 together with another one of her husband’s works to Hendrick van Buyten, Delft, until 1701; Josua van Belle, Rotterdam, before 1710; Ida Catharina van der Meyden, widow of van Belle, Rotterdam, 1710–1729; Rotterdam, 6 September 1730, van Belle sale, lot 92; Franco van Bleyswijk, Delft, 1734; by descent to Catharina van der Burch, married to Hendrick van Slingelandt, The Hague, 1761–1775; possibly Barthout van Slingelandt, Dordrecht, 1771–1798; Viktor von Miller zu Aichholz, Vienna, before 1881; Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris, 6 April 1881; E. Secrétan, Paris, 1881–1889; Paris, 1 June 1889, Secretan sale, lot 140; to Boussod, Valadon & Cie.; Marinoni Collection, Paris; F. Kleinberger, Paris; Alfred Beit, London, c.1895–1906; Sir Otto Beit Bt, London, 1906–1930; Sir Alfred Beit, 2nd Bt, London and (from 1952) Blessington, Russborough, near Dublin (1930–1986, when the painting was stolen, the painting was recovered in 1993); presented to the National Gallery of Ireland by Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987.
  • Original Source: National Gallery of Ireland
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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