Arts Everyday Living: Vermeer and the Art of Letter Writing—A Woman’s Secret?

Johannes Vermeer, A Lady Writing, c. 1665, oil on canvas, Gift of Harry Waldron Havemeyer and Horace Havemeyer, Jr., in memory of their father Horace Havemeyer, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Title: A Lady Writing, c. 1665

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)


Imagine a time when letter writing was an art form and words were thoughtfully chosen. Written down with a feathery quill dipped in ink, carefully applied to paper in order not to smudge. When precious sunlight filled a darkened room, if only for a few hours. Illuminating the mistress of the house, attired in a splendid  yellow jacket bordered with black and white fur. Her hair decorated in small ribbons while pearl drop earrings hang delicately from her ears.

Does she seem to know us? Smiling directly at the viewer, as she rests her arms gracefully on the velvet blue clothed table. Or is it Vermeer, the artist and possibly her husband, who is the center of her attention.* Perhaps inviting him to share the contents of her correspondence? Or will its message remain a secret forever?

*Vermeer’s models have not been identified, although possible subjects are family members such as his wife or daughters.




In the public domain, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art does not endorse or approve use of the above image or acny of the material on this website. Nor has the National Gallery of Art participated in any projects utilizing the said image.

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