(b. 1629, Leiden, d. 1667, Amsterdam)
Woman Reading a Letter1662-65
Oil on panel, 53 x 40 cm
National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
Metsu's indisputable masterpieces are Man Writing a Letter and Woman Reading a Letter which were painted as companion pieces. In both paintings, the way the silvery daylight flows over the figures set against light walls is not surpassed by Vermeer. The pendants offer a small drama: the handsome man writes a letter, and its patient recipient attentively reads it by the light of a window. Here letter writing and reading are most likely associated with love. The discreet waiting maid pulls aside a curtain hanging from a rod to reveal a choppy seascape, possibly but not demonstrably a reference to the popular adage that love is as hazardous as a sea voyage. The maid's momentary movement contrasts with the concentration of the young woman who, one senses, will not move until she has finished reading the letter.
The curtain over the painting is not an unusual detail. The Dutch often protected paintings with curtains, either to keep off the light and dust, or to look at them only occasionally, as is the traditional way of the Chinese and, Japanese - a practice that comes from the fine feeling that a work of art cannot be looked at continually. Trompe l'oeil curtains on rods painted to give the illusion that they have been drawn aside to reveal a framed picture are not uncommon either; best known is the one Rembrandt included in his intimate Holy Family at Kassel.