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

Lady with Her Maidservant Holding a Letter

c. 1667
Oil on canvas, 89,5 x 78,1 cm
Frick Collection, New York

Signature: Not signed.

Provenance: The provenance of the painting is fraught with uncertainties, primarily because several times Vermeer treated the theme of a lady receiving or writing a letter while a maid is present. Thus, no. 7 in the Amsterdam sale of 1696 is described: "A young lady who is being brought a letter by a maid, by ditto; fl 70." It might apply to this painting, or to the Love Letter in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. The earlier provenance is therefore spotty. Sale Amsterdam, 1738. Art gallery C. Lebrun; Paris, 1807-8. Sale Lebrun, Paris, 1810. Sale Paris, 1818. Collection Duchesse de Berry, sale exh. London, 1834. Sale Duchesse de Berry, Paris, 1837. Collection Dufour, Marseilles. Sale E. Secrétan, Paris, 1889. Collection A. Paulovstof, Saint Petersburg. Art gallery Lawrie and Co., London. Art Gallery Sulley, London. Exh. Palais Redern, Berlin, 1906. James Simon, Berlin. Art gallery Duveen, New York and London. Collection H. C. Frick, New York, 1919.

The mistress, sitting at a table and turned to the left, wears the same yellow jacket with an ermine border as the Lady Writing a Letter. The maid interrupts her writing and hands her a letter. Both figures are close to the foreground, strongly illuminated, and standing out against the dark background, which lacks further adornment and remains undefined.

For Vermeer, this is an unusually large composition, which focuses on a moment of interaction and interruption, rather than on a contemplation of stillness and introvert thoughtfulness. This new approach enhances the monumentality of the scene.