VERMEER, Johannes
(b. 1632, Delft, d. 1675, Delft)

Woman in Blue Reading a Letter

Oil on canvas, 46,6 x 39,1 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Signature: Not signed.

Provenance: Perhaps no. 22 in the Sale Pieter van der Lip, Amsterdam, 1712. Inventory of the late Moses de Chaves, 1759. Sale, Amsterdam, 1772, no. 23 (the first certain allusion to this picture). Sale P. Lyonet, Amsterdam, 1 791 . Sale Amsterdam, 1793. Sale Herman ten Kate, Amsterdam, 1801, no. 118. Sale Lespinasse de Langeac, Paris, 1809. Sale Lapeyriére, Paris, 1825. Acquired by A. van der Hoop, Amsterdam, from J. Smith, London, 1839. Bequeathed with the collection van der Hoop to the city of Amsterdam in 1854. On loan to the Rijksmuseum since 1885.

As in the Woman with a Pearl Necklace, a solitary figure of a woman is standing immersed in her thoughts, this time in the center of the composition. She reads a letter and seems completely absorbed by it.

This painting stands out by the simplification of the composition, which does away with the previously mandatory leaden window to the left. Even the chairs and table surrounding the principal and single figure have lost in importance. Only the map on the wall breaks the uniformity. Vermeer's palette has become very delicate and sophisticated. Blue predominates by its widespread use in the woman's jacket.

The foreground again gains in emphasis according to the precepts derived from the inverted telescope.

Otherwise, the viewer is only confronted with the pure majesty of the main figure, set against the clear wall, whose luminosity is balanced by the brownish map. In its classical simplicity, grandeur, and almost abstract conception, this is one of Vermeer's masterpieces.