Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window

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Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window
Johannes Vermeer - Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window - Google Art Project.jpg
Artist Johannes Vermeer
Year1657–1659
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions83 cm× 64.5 cm(33 in× 25.4 in)
Location Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window is an oil painting by Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer. Completed in approximately 1657–59, the painting is on display at the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden. For many years, the attribution of the painting—which features a young Dutch woman reading a letter before an open window—was lost, with first Rembrandt and then Pieter de Hooch being credited for the work before it was properly identified in 1880. After World War II, the painting was briefly in possession of the Soviet Union. Apparently well-preserved, the painting may have been altered after the painter's death.

Oil painting Process of painting with pigments that are bound with a medium of drying oil

Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments with a medium of drying oil as the binder. Commonly used drying oils include linseed oil, poppy seed oil, walnut oil, and safflower oil. The choice of oil imparts a range of properties to the oil paint, such as the amount of yellowing or drying time. Certain differences, depending on the oil, are also visible in the sheen of the paints. An artist might use several different oils in the same painting depending on specific pigments and effects desired. The paints themselves also develop a particular consistency depending on the medium. The oil may be boiled with a resin, such as pine resin or frankincense, to create a varnish prized for its body and gloss.

Dutch Golden Age painting

Dutch Golden Age painting is the painting of the Dutch Golden Age, a period in Dutch history roughly spanning the 17th century, during and after the later part of the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) for Dutch independence.

Johannes Vermeer 17th-century Dutch painter

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime but evidently was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.

Contents

Composition

The painting depicts a young Dutch blonde girl standing at an open window, in profile, reading a letter. A red drapery hangs over the top of the window glass, which has opened inward and which, in its lower right quadrant, reflects her. A tasseled ochre drapery in the foreground right, partially closed, masks a quarter of the room in which she stands. The color of the drape reflects the green of the woman's gown and the shades of the fruit tilted in a bowl on the red-draped table. On the table beside the bowl, a peach is cut in half, revealing its pit.

Ochre painting material and color

Ochre (English) or ocher is a natural clay earth pigment which is a mixture of ferric oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand. It ranges in colour from yellow to deep orange or brown. It is also the name of the colours produced by this pigment, especially a light brownish-yellow. A variant of ochre containing a large amount of hematite, or dehydrated iron oxide, has a reddish tint known as "red ochre".

Symbolism and technique

In Vermeer, 1632–1675 (2000), Norbert Schneider indicates that the open window is on one level intended to represent "the woman's longing to extend her domestic sphere" beyond the constraints of her home and society, while the fruit "is a symbol of extramarital relations." [1] He concludes that the letter is a love letter either planning or continuing her illicit relationship. This conclusion, he says, is supported by the fact that x-rays of the canvas have shown that at one point Vermeer had featured a Cupid in the painting. [2] This putto once hung in the upper right of the piece before, for whatever reason, somebody closed the wall over it. [3] [4] This overpainting, which is now being reversed by restorators, seems to have taken place in the 18th century. [5]

Separate spheres

Terms such as separate spheres and domestic–public dichotomy refer to a social phenomenon, within modern societies that feature, to some degree, an empirical separation between a domestic or private sphere and a public or social sphere. This observation may be controversial, and is often also seen as supporting patriarchal ideologies that seek to create or strengthen, any such separation between spheres, and to confine women to the domestic/private sphere.

Cupid Ancient Roman god of desire, affection and erotic love

In classical mythology, Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars. He is also known in Latin as Amor ("Love"). His Greek counterpart is Eros. Although Eros is generally portrayed as a slender winged youth in Classical Greek art, during the Hellenistic period, he was increasingly portrayed as a chubby boy. During this time, his iconography acquired the bow and arrow that represent his source of power: a person, or even a deity, who is shot by Cupid's arrow is filled with uncontrollable desire. In myths, Cupid is a minor character who serves mostly to set the plot in motion. He is a main character only in the tale of Cupid and Psyche, when wounded by his own weapons, he experiences the ordeal of love. Although other extended stories are not told about him, his tradition is rich in poetic themes and visual scenarios, such as "Love conquers all" and the retaliatory punishment or torture of Cupid.

Putto figure in a work of art depicted as a chubby male child, usually nude and sometimes winged

A putto is a figure in a work of art depicted as a chubby male child, usually naked and sometimes winged. Originally limited to profane passions in symbolism, the putto came to represent the sacred cherub ; and in the Baroque period of art, the putto came to represent the omnipresence of God. A putto representing a cupid is also called an amorino or amoretto.

The draperies, hanging in the right foreground, are not an uncommon element for Vermeer, appearing in seven of his paintings. [6] Even more common, the repoussoir appears in 25, with Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, one of three which feature a rug-covered table or balustrade between the figure and the viewer. [6] It was the last painting in which Vermeer featured this device. [6]

<i>Repoussoir</i> object along the right or left foreground of a painting

In two-dimensional works of art, such as painting, printmaking, photography or bas-relief, repoussoir is an object along the right or left foreground that directs the viewer's eye into the composition by bracketing (framing) the edge. It became popular with Mannerist and Baroque artists, and is found frequently in Dutch seventeenth-century landscape paintings. Jacob van Ruisdael, for example, often included a tree along one side to enclose the scene. Figures are also commonly employed as repoussoir devices by artists such as Paolo Veronese, Peter Paul Rubens and Impressionists such as Gustave Caillebotte.

This painting and Officer and Laughing Girl represent the earliest known examples of the pointillé (not to be confused with pointillism) for which Vermeer became known. [3] John Michael Montias in Vermeer and His Milieu (1991) points out the "tiny white globules" that can be seen in the brighter parts of both paintings, including the still life elements of both and the blond hair specifically in this work. [3] This use of light may support speculation among art historians that Vermeer used a mechanical optical device, such as a double concave lens mounted in a camera obscura, to help him achieve realistic light patterns in his paintings. [3]

<i>Officer and Laughing Girl</i> 17th-century painting by Johannes Vermeer

Officer and Laughing Girl, also known as Officer and a Laughing Girl, Officer With a Laughing Girl or De Soldaat en het Lachende Meisje, was painted by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer between 1655 and 1660. It was painted in oil on canvas, typical of most Dutch artists of the time, and is 50.5 by 46 cm. It now resides in The Frick Collection in New York.

Pointillé

Pointillé is a decorative technique in which patterns are formed on a surface by a means of punched dots. The technique is similar to embossing or engraving but is done manually and does not cut into the surface being decorated. Pointillé was commonly used to decorate arms and armor starting in the fifteenth century. The Holy Thorn Reliquary in the British Museum, made in France at the end of the 14th century, has very fine and delicate pointillé work in gold.

Pointillism technique of painting with small, distinct dots

Pointillism is a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image.

History

Vermeer completed the painting in approximately 1657–59. [7] [8] In 1742, Augustus III of Poland, Elector of Saxony, purchased the painting under the mistaken belief that it had been painted by Rembrandt. [9] In 1826, it was mis-attributed again, to Pieter de Hooch. [10] It was so labeled when French art critic Théophile Thoré-Bürger came upon it, recognizing it as one of the rare works of the Dutch painter and restoring its proper attribution in 1860.

Augustus III of Poland King of Poland, Elector of Saxony

Augustus III was King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1734 until 1763, as well as Elector of Saxony in the Holy Roman Empire from 1733 until 1763 where he was known as Frederick Augustus II.

Electorate of Saxony State of the Holy Roman Empire, established when Emperor Charles IV raised the Ascanian duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg to the status of an Electorate 1356

The Electorate of Saxony was a state of the Holy Roman Empire established when Emperor Charles IV raised the Ascanian duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg to the status of an Electorate by the Golden Bull of 1356. Upon the extinction of the House of Ascania, it was feoffed to the Margraves of Meissen from the Wettin dynasty in 1423, who moved the ducal residence up the river Elbe to Dresden. After the Empire's dissolution in 1806, the Wettin Electors raised Saxony to a territorially reduced kingdom.

Théophile Thoré-Bürger French journalist and art critic

Étienne-Joseph-Théophile Thoré was a French journalist and art critic. He is best known today for his rediscovery of the work of painter Johannes Vermeer.

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window was among the paintings rescued from destruction during the bombing of Dresden in World War II. [11] The painting was stored, with other works of art, in a tunnel in Saxony; when the Red Army encountered them, they took them. [11] [12] The Soviets portrayed this as an act of rescue; some others as an act of plunder. Either way, after the death of Joseph Stalin, the Soviets decided in 1955 to return the art to Germany, "for the purpose of strengthening and furthering the progress of friendship between the Soviet and German peoples." [12] [13] Aggrieved at the thought of losing hundreds of paintings, art historians and museum curators in the Soviet Union suggested that "in acknowledgment for saving and returning the world-famous treasures of the Dresden Gallery" the Germans should perhaps donate to them Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window and Sleeping Venus by Giorgione. [12] The Germans did not take to the idea, and the painting was returned. [11] [12] Well-preserved, it is on display at the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden. [3]

Painting materials

The painting was investigated by Hermann Kühn together with several other works of Vermeer in 1968. [14] The pigment analysis has shown that Vermeer's choice of painting materials did not reveal any peculiarities as he used the usual pigments of the baroque period. The green drapery in the foreground is painted mainly in a mixture of blue azurite and lead-tin-yellow, while the lower part contains green earth. For the red drapery in the window and the red parts of the table covering Vermeer used a mixture of vermilion, madder lake and lead white. [15]

Legacy

This painting has been an inspiration to other artists, such as Tom Hunter, whose artistic photo interpretation of the somber tone of emotion and the bowl of fruit shows a young mother and her child reading an eviction notice. [16]

See also

Notes

  1. Schneider (2000), p. 49.
  2. Schneider (2000), p. 50.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Montias (1991), p. 152.
  4. Huerta (2005), p. 37.
  5. Deutschlandfunk, May 7th 2019: Gemälde übermalt „Vermeer war kein Begriff“ (Radio interview with Gemäldegalerie‘s director Stephan Koja, in German)
  6. 1 2 3 Huerta (2003), p. 66.
  7. Huerta (2003), p.83.
  8. Shapiro (2003), p. 63.
  9. Saltzman (2008), p. 39.
  10. Cumming (2001).
  11. 1 2 3 Bailey (1995), p. 44.
  12. 1 2 3 4 Akinsha (1991).
  13. Smith (2002), p. 60.
  14. Kuhn, H. A Study of the Pigments and Grounds Used by Jan Vermeer. Reports and Studies in the History of Art, 1968, 154–202
  15. Johannes Vermeer, A Lady Reading a Letter, Colourlex
  16. Woman Reading Possession Order

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