Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window

xl_girl_reading_a_letter_at_an_open_window_

Girl reading a Letter at an Open Window is a painting finished in 1657 by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. At first it was attributed to Rembrandt. But, in fact, this was something common. There were great difficulties to establish which painting were by Vermeer himself and which were not, mainly because of problems with the signature recorded in the paintings. In addition to this already existing problems we have to bear in mind that there are no letters by Vermeer where some kind of information could be found, nor even any contract or paper where clarify something. Besides, we know very little by Vermeer’s life. However, in 1862 the correct identification was made and the painting was eventually attributed to Vermeer.

If I have chosen this painting and not any other is because the intimacy of the painting itself surprises me. There are nor so many painters that achieve this kind of intimacy I am referring to. You can see a girl reading a letter, alone in a room, with the outside world in front of her eyes, and she just focuses her attention in the letter, in what is written there. She is indifferent to the rest of the world, and the stillness she shows I think is quite amazing. She seems as rejecting the world, the room, the house, even herself. She just reads a letter. A letter that maybe she has been expecting long time ago. Good or bad news, it doesn’t matter. That’s why I chose this painting.

Vermeer’s style has been compared to Rembrandt’s style. They have something very special in common but many differences at the same time. Rembrandt is darker, while Vermeer is brighter. But what they have in common is where they focus the light. They set up the light in a specific point in the picture, but not any point, but the important one. Where the eyes have to be driven, where we should focus our attention. A very good example is in “Girl with a pearl earring” painting. We can consider that there are three main points of light: the face itself, the mouth lower lip and the earring. The important points are reflected with light.

It’s funny to know that at the back of the picture, in the wall, and next to the girl, there was a Cupid picture. That shows that the letter the girl is reading is a love letter. Besides, the fruits on the bed, next to the tapestry, contains apples, among other fruits, meaning that is an infidelity, an extra-marital relationship. I did not notice these features when I decided to choose this painting. What called my attention was the letter, the girl’s face, her expression, what that could mean, what is hidden. The soft and pale colours of the painting also called my attention. The light can be seen perfectly well, and the scene is brilliantly defined.

The girl is holding on her breath, she is nervous, expectant. That’s what I like the most of this painting.

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Internet Resources

“We are confronted with one of the salient aspects of Vermeer’s sensibility and originilaty. It is the stillness that stands out, the inner absorption, the remoteness from the outer world. She concentrates entirely upon the letter, holding it firmly and tantly, while she absorbs its content with utmost attention.”

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“Vermeer’s genius was in probing those moments in life when one feels alone and immersed in one’s thoughts. His are essentially private works, invitations to pause and partake of the quiet intimacy of the scene. Almost as in poetry, he suggests moods and attitudes in his figures that are recognizable yet not precisely defined. In this painting a girl stands in a corner of a room before an open window, her thoughts are totally absorbed in the letter she is reading. The walls, curtains, and table define the physical limits of her space; the reflection of her image in the glass emphasizes the inner nature of her thoughts. Her world is still.”

Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., Jan Vermeer, 1981

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Understanding “A Girl Reading a Letter by an Open window”. Important facts taken from the text on the webpage:

http://www.essentialvermeer.com/cat_about/open.html

– It was painted in the late 1650s.

– The compositional formula he uses in this painting – depicting a corner of a large room lit through a window on the left side – is inspired by Pieter de Hooch’s work.

– Vermeer transforms reality in his painting, which is his most famous characteristic but also the most difficult one.

– The way he depicts the action in the painting influence the spectator when seeing the painting: the frame of the window on the lefts side directs our attention into the chair, situated below the window. This chair, at the same time, directs our gaze into the illuminated letter the young woman is holding, and reading.

– According to Alejandro Vergara, “the reflection of the girl in the window emphasizes the importance of the letter, which becomes the psychological axis of the painting”.

– It is curious to note that the angle of the bowl of fruit and the girl’s forearm are parallel so we relate them visually.

– All the elements on the painting are visually related, what makes us believe that Vermeer’s paintings have rhythm.

– The analysis by X-rays showed that there was a painting of Cupid on the wall at the very beginning. The theories have stated that this painting was removed because it would call more the attention of the people Cupid’s painting than the rest of the painting itself.

– The removed painting of Cupid proves the statement that this was a love letter true. Moreover, the bowl of fruit on the bed also proves that this is an extramarital relationship: the bowl contains apples and peaches remind us Eve’s sin.

– The idea of including a curtain in the painting has numerous precedents and became very popular in the mid 17th century. The curtain is playing a role in the painting: is showing us a private, intimate scene, which we should not be watching, in which a woman is reading a letter from somebody else, probably a lover.

Alejandro Vergara, (2003) In Essential Vermeer. Retrieved April 17, 2009, from http://www.essentialvermeer.com

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A funny picture I found on the Internet last March the 11th.

The picture represents exactly the scene depicted in “A Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window”, made with Lego pieces.

1215367449_display

Picture taken from MocPages.

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My presentation on Vermeer and “A Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window”.

Slide 1: THE PAINTING

  • This painting was created in the late 1650s, between 1657 and 1659.
  • It depicts the corner of a, supposed, large room.
  • A girl is standing in front of the window, through which light enters into the room, reading a letter.

Slide 2: Why did I choose this painting among all?

Three main reasons:

  1. The girl’s face.
  2. The letter.
  3. The bowl of fruits on the bed.

Slide 3: The Painting in-depth

  • Some critics defend that Vermeer’s paintings have rhythm, so we can see in this painting:

Imagen 2

The numbers 1, 2 and 3 point out how critics believe we first see the painting: first we focus on the window, then on the chair and eventually on the letter. The parallel lines indicate the rhythm always present in Vermeer’s painting, as some critics state.

Slide 5: Cupid was at the back

  • Thanks to X-rays images we know that Cupid was at the back.
  • The presence of Cupid tell us that the letter the girl is reading is a love letter.
  • Theories have stated that the painting was removed because we will just focus on the painting and not on the whole scene.

Imagen 3

Slide 6: The bowl of fruits

  • The bowl of fruits on the bed proves that this is an extramarital love relationship: the bowl contains apples and peaches what remind us Eve’s sin.

Imagen 4

Slide 7: The Letter

  • We may think she is reading a love letter due to the interpretations that both Cupid and the Fruits in the bowl give us.

Imagen 10

Slide 8: The Girl’s face

  • According to Alejandro Vergara, “the reflection of the girl in the window emphasizes the importance of the letter, which becomes the psychological axis of the painting”.
  • Her thoughts are totally absorbed in the letter.
  • The inner nature of her thoughts is reflected on her face.

Imagen 6

Slide 9: Profile Simmilarities

  • The profile of this girl matches with the profile of the woman in the painting “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter”.
  • Vermeer’s wife, Catharina Bolnes?

Imagen 7

Slide 10: The Curtain

  • The idea of including a curtain in the painting became very popular in the mid 17th century.
  • The curtain is playing a role in the painting: is showing us a private, intimate scene, which we should not be watching, in which a woman is reading a letter from her lover.

Imagen 8

Slide 11: The points of Light

  • There are five points of light highlighting the five most important things on the painting:

Imagen 9

  1. The girl’s face
  2. The window through which light enters
  3. The letter, probably the most important element in the painting
  4. The bowl of fruits
  5. The curtain

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Web Gallery of Art about “Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window”:

Signature: Traces of signature (?).

Provenance: Acquired in 1724 by August III, elector of Saxony, together with a number of other paintings bought in Paris. The seller threw in the picture as a present, to sweeten the deal. It was then attributed to Rembrandt, and the ascription was subsequently weakened to “manner” or “school of.” In 1783, it was engraved as a work by Govaert Flinck. The name “Van der Meer from Delft” occurred for the first time in a catalog dating from 1806, to be changed back to Flinck in 1817. From 1826 to 1860, the appellation was altered to Pieter de Hooch. It is only since 1862 that the correct identification obtains. The only Dutch provenance that could possibly apply is the sale Pieter van der Lip, Amsterdam, 1712, no. 22, “A Woman Reading in a Room, by van der Meer of Delft fl 110.” Unfortunately, the text is not specific enough to distinguish it from the one at the Rijksmuseum, Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.

The above underlines the difficulties inherent to the establishment of Vermeer’s catalog. Not a single work can be traced back to the painter’s studio, nor are there any letters or contracts extant. The task of attribution rests squarely upon the shoulders of the individual critic, which explains the multiplicity of divergent opinions. In this painting, a young woman stands in the center of the composition, facing in profile an open window to the left. In the foreground is a table covered with the same Oriental rug encountered in the Woman Asleep. On it is the identical Delft plate with fruit. The window reflects the girl’s features, while to the right the large green curtain forms a deceptive frame. She is precisely silhouetted against a bare wall that reflects the light and envelops her in its luminosity.

We are here confronted with one of the salient aspects of Vermeer’s sensibility and originality. It is the stillness that stands out, the inner absorption, the remoteness from the outer world. She concentrates entirely upon the letter, holding it firmly and tautly, while she absorbs its content with utmost attention.

In the technique, the artist avows again Rembrandtesque derivation. He paints in small fatty dabs to model the forms, and obtains the desired effects by means of impasto highlights opposed to the deeper tonalities – just as the master from Leyden was wont to do. The painting is relatively large, and the smallness of the figure as opposed to its surroundings stresses immateriality and depersonalization. Vermeer considerably changed the composition in the course of execution.

Much has been written about the trompe-l’oeil effect of the curtain. It is a pictorial artifice used by many other Dutch masters and in keeping with an old European tradition. Rembrandt, Gerard Dou, Nicolaes Maes, and many still-life and even landscape painters made use of such curtains as a means of simulating effects that now seem theatrical. The light background can be found in many paintings by Carel Fabritius, the Goldfinch from 1654 at the Mauritshuis in The Hague being the most famous example.

Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Kren and Daniel Marx., In Web Gallery of Art. Retrieved May 17, 2009, from http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/v/vermeer/02a/06gread.html

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What Wikipedia says about this painting:

Girl reading a Letter at an Open Window is a painting finished in 1657 by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. It is housed in the Gemäldegalerie of Dresden.

The picture was acquired in 1724 by August III, elector of Saxony, together with a number of other paintings bought in Paris. The seller threw in the picture as a present, to sweeten the deal. It was then attributed to Rembrandt, and the ascription was subsequently weakened to “manner” or “school of”. In 1783, it was engraved as a work by Govaert Flinck. The name “Van der Meer from Delft” occurred for the first time in a catalog dating from 1806, to be changed back to Flinck in 1817. From 1826 to 1860, the appellation was altered to Pieter de Hooch. It is only since 1862 that the correct identification obtains. The only Dutch provenance that could possibly apply is the sale Pieter van der Lip, Amsterdam, 1712, no. 22, “A Woman Reading in a Room, by van der Meer of Delft fl 110”. Unfortunately, the text is not specific enough to distinguish it from the one at the Rijksmuseum, Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.

The above underlines the difficulties inherent to the establishment of Vermeer’s catalog. Not a single work can be traced back to the painter’s studio, nor are there any letters or contracts extant. The task of attribution rests squarely upon the shoulders of the individual critic, which explains the multiplicity of divergent opinions. In this painting, a young woman stands in the center of the composition, facing in profile an open window to the left. In the foreground is a table covered with the same Oriental rug encountered in the Woman Asleep. On it is the identical Delft plate with fruit. The window reflects the girl’s features, while to the right the large green curtain forms a deceptive frame. She is precisely silhouetted against a bare wall that reflects the light and envelops her in its luminosity.

We are here confronted with one of the salient aspects of Vermeer’s sensibility and originality. It is the stillness that stands out, the inner absorption, the remoteness from the outer world. She concentrates entirely upon the letter, holding it firmly and tautly, while she absorbs its content with utmost attention.

In the technique, the artist avows again Rembrandtesque derivation. He paints in small fatty dabs to model the forms, and obtains the desired effects by means of impasto highlights opposed to the deeper tonalities – just as the master from Leyden was wont to do. The painting is relatively large, and the smallness of the figure as opposed to its surroundings stresses immateriality and depersonalization. Vermeer considerably changed the composition in the course of execution.

Much has been written about the trompe-l’oeil effect of the curtain. It is a pictorial artifice used by many other Dutch masters and in keeping with an old European tradition. Rembrandt, Gerard Dou, Nicolaes Maes, and many still-life and even landscape painters made use of such curtains as a means of simulating effects that now seem theatrical. The light background can be found in many paintings by Carel Fabritius, the Goldfinch from 1654 at the Mauritshuis in The Hague being the most famous example.[1]

The artist Tom Hunter borrowed the composition for his award-winning photograph of a squatter, Woman Reading a Possession Order.

Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window, In Wikipedia. Last time retrieved May 17, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_reading_a_Letter_at_an_Open_Window

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Elizabeth Mansfield

This author, ELizabeth Mansfield, mentioned the painting I chose, “Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window” in her book “Art, history and its institutions”, as we can see in this picture:

Imagen 11

This information is given to us by Google. The rights are reserved, but I wanted to show you how this painting is also mentioned not only on the Web but also in different books.

In Google Books. Last time retrieved 17 May 2009, from GoogleBooks .

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Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window in a POEM

Afternoon light falls

on ochres and reds and pale golds.

Velvets and linens and wools

sway heavily in the light

breeze that passes through

this bower of abundance.

The letter she holds has been read before.

Pulling taut the wrinkled sheet she reads

again what she could now recite.

The word on which her gaze falls so intently

reach from the page like a familiar touch,

tender and faint as the delicate script

bleached by the light of this autumn afternoon.

Perhaps it is from an absent husband, running

the trade that brought these rugs a thousand miles,

and bought this fruit, best of harvest, for her table.

Perhaps not. It may be she who has gone away.

Given in marriage beyond what she knew to hope for,

taken from the sound of known feet on the village path,

from a circle of friends gathered to gossip

at the brookside after the day’s tasks,

from the mother who writes her now, wondering

whether, in her grand house, among her servants

and soft garments, she still cares for news from home.

Not even her mother knows how much

she cares: how she is glad that the old, blind cobbler’s

young apprentice is kind to him, and repairs

without a word the vagrant stitches on sole and tongue,

and calls him father; that her sister is learning

to weave and has taken her place reading verses

after the evening meal; that the little hunchback still rides

on the peddler’s cart and laughs back

at the children who laugh at him.

The streets of this city are silent as her ear strains

for familiar sounds. No woman’s voice summons her

in this household where, as yet, there is no babe

to cry or nurse to scold. The man who adores her

knows her only as his lady.

None of them knows how she would like, some evenings,

to lay her coiffed head on a breast broader and softer than her own;

to bake, morning, in a kitchen crowded with bowls and chatter;

to strip off her fine-stitched shoes and wade in a muddy brook

in secret, skirts gathered, with a giggling friend

in the heat and falling light of the afternoon.

In Quiet Light: Poems on Vermeer’s Women by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

11 responses to “Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window

  1. Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window
    Probably five of the paintings of Vermeer were images of his wife Catharina Bolnes, but the Lady in Blue is not one of them to my mind (I speculate that she is Gertruit, Vermeer’s sister, because of a similarity to the Geographer, who IS Vermeer according to good evidence I have found.) Two of the five, painted early in their marriage and two after a dozen years of marriage. I pointed to the EAR of the lady in “Lady and her Maid” (maid hands a letter to the startled seated Lady) and “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” as salient indicators that the individuals were the same person. My interest in the ears was due to the fact that ears are 1.)Unique to the individual and 2.)That ears do no change their form and appearance with age, weight-gain, etc.. Noted at the time of that observation was the UNUSUAL outward PROTRUDING of the inner part of the Lady’s EAR and compared it to the “Girl”‘s whose head is in profile with curls dangling in front of her ear. The ear of the Girl has a single specular highlight at the place where the Lady’s ear protudes. It ocurred to me that this highlight should, probably, not be present due to the dangling curls hanging between the windows light-source and her ear. The highlight is more pronounced in other reproductions than in the one above, but the picture in Ainize’ slide #8 is large enough to be helpful. Find the light dot of paint (specular highlight)at the ridge above the earlobe adjacent to the ear canal.
    For those of you who have a book with a reproduction of the Girl Reading.. (and to those who are curious enough to try it!)–with a compasses or dividers, such as “The Geographer” holds in his right hand, place the pivot point on the specular highlight and align the other point to the Girl’s forehead and scribe the circle. Voila! More Vermeerian magic as it perfectly scribes her facial features and is an indicator that THIS is Catharina!!

    The other two painting

  2. The other three paintings of Catharina are Lady Sleeping, A Lady Writing, and A Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid, in my opinion.

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  6. A recent discovery, three days ago, is confirmation of the theory put forth in the May 28, 2009 post, above, regarding the significance of the dotted highlight in the ear of the Girl Reading a Letter at the Open Window. The dot of light paint was compared to the protrusion of the lady’s ear in another painting, Lady and Her Maid, to connect the two female subjects as the same woman at different ages. The new discovery makes plain, that Vermeer, without any doubt, had the intimate intention of highlighting a portion of his wife, Catharina, that he, as her husband, had cherished.
    I have related how Vermeer had used straight lines, whether a misaligned orthogonal or straight edges of folds making alignments across borders to other folds in drapery, etc., to make structural connections and even to make the interpretation of his pictures available. By this method and other structural means, such as concentric circles and spirals, Vermeer ordered and revealed his intent for each picture. Who can deny, that by misaligning two orthogonals, to converge at a chosen point, rather than the vanishing point of the painting, Vermeer, the Master of the ordered canvas, has thereby, given purposeful, inordinate and disproportionate emphasis and significance to an otherwise ordinary element. This was true in the Woman within the Pearl Necklace and the highlight on the brush handle and is truer still within this painting of his wife.
    Catharina wears a yellow and black jacket, which (her daughter?) also wore in the Concert. She wears a black wool skirt – a stiff material – with straight lines in the flare of it. Extending the converging lines will find their apex precisely in the point of the ear’s highlight! Vermeer speaks of his love in the mechanics of this painting. This is Catharina, the wife of his youth!

  7. “Catharina Bolnes Reading a Letter by an Open Window” is still a “Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window”. As logical as it may be, by inductive reasoning, that Vermeer painted the first portrait known of his wife, the context is still, just a girl. That she modelled as a generic for representation is no bother, but, like his friend and mentor, Gerard Terborch, who used his half-sister Gesina and their brother and his student, Netscher as models, Vermeer has carefully portrayed Catharina and showed an intimacy by the secret of the ear. It is due to Vermeer’s precision and mapping (Did he ever produce the artwork for maps?!), by straight line and compasses, with the symbolism within the construct of their architecture, that Vermeer can be said to have produced the richest masterworks. Layering the outward appearance of the socio-economic state of Dutch new-middleclass households, over the sensitive firsthand masculine perceptions of outward femininity, over a narrative of moral duplicity with implied admonition to Temperance, over an ongoing jocular conversation in paint with friends and painters, and over a thin, tender film of his personal expression to his wife, Vermeer has made each of his paintings into historical documents that may be diciphered.
    In the “Girl Reading a Letter..” another discovery, that appears to corroberate the assertion that I have made regarding his next work, “The Sleeping Maid”, is directly linked to the straight line analysis revealing the significance of the ear. I believe he painted the Sleeper second (also Catharina); an order that his chroniclers would generally reverse. The new discovery in the Girl Reading makes this order even more likely in an evolution of Vermeer’s thinking and subjects. In the Girl, he mechanically draws attention to the element that he may be elaborating on in the Sleeper. The speculation, that Vermeer was identifying NUTMEG as the sedative in the apparently spiked wine, which was used as an aphrodisiac, I felt was plausible for the reasons suggested and the bloody war that ensued over the only island in the known world that was its singular source, about ten years after this work was painted. The object that is identified, by Vermeer, as being as significant within “The Girl…” as his lady’s own ear, is one located on the carpet-covered table in
    front of the collection of spilled fruit, of which this item is a part. In fact, dropping a vertical line from the pointille in the girl’s ear will meet the top surface of this legitimate fruit of the nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans. This object may have been described as a peach that has been slice in half, but it is the only item on the table, thus pictured, with no real reason for a peach to be sliced in the grouping. A more reasonable and even more natural explanation is the fact that the fruit of the nutmeg tree, when it has become ripe, splits into two halves in the way depicted. Vermeer’s rendering of the fruit may be inaccurate, in that the outer surface is smooth and the inner actual nutmeg has the granular appearance, but the split division and size would indicate the nutmeg. Otherwise, why would Vermeer, using as many as thirteen straight lines radiating from the point on its surface, as in a lady’s fan, make this such an important object. One of these lines edges the declining angle of the fingers of the girl’s left hand. Two pieces of the strange projection at the back of her jacket are used similarly. The back fo her jacket to her waist is another and the line from the bright corner of the window sill reveals that the angle of the lion’s nose of the closer finial is exactly online to the centre of the fruit. I cannot see Vermeer giving such importance to a secreted item without a significant reason. It is also known that, at the time Vermeer eliminated the Cupid painting on the back wall of this painting, he did, also, cover a “man’s” drinking glass, called a Roehmer glass, when he substituted the green, Trompe l’oeil curtain over the right side of the table. Drinking of spirits was an initial part of this picture’s plan. Nutmeg, therefore, seems a large part of his original thinking and may have come to greater fruition in the Sleeping Maid.

  8. I have a old framed painting or print of this picture it came from my wifes grandmother she collected everything was there many out there

  9. of course like your web site but you have to test the spelling on several of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling problems and I in finding it very bothersome to tell the truth however I’ll surely come back again.

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