Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window
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Girl Reading a Letter at Open Window brings us back to the wistful days when one might read a letter from a far away loved one and gaze longingly out the window between sentences.

Vermeer didn’t just paint women reading letters. He painted women doing a variety of very average things, which was seemingly his specialty. For example, some of his most famous paintings include Girl with a Red Hat, A Lady Writing, and Woman with a Pearl Necklace, all of which capture women during mundane moments.

Though the paintings may have been average in content, they are best known for their use of dots of light to create a realistic-looking lighting. The lighting technique, called pointillé, is what makes the light in the painting appear to filter through the window and illuminate the girl. Many critics have speculated that this unique use of light was inspired by an instrument called a camera obscura, which casts images onto walls (the camera obscura later inspired the invention of cameras). Other critics have even speculated that Vermeer used a camera obscura in the creation of his paintings to make the light appear especially realistic.

The painting’s journey through time is a scattered, largely unrecorded one, but here’s what is known: Augustus III of Poland purchased Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window in 1742, attributing authorship to Rembrandt. It would later be attributed to the artist Pieter de Hooch, before 1860 when a French critic, Théophile Thoré-Bürger, would correct both of these identifications. He would determine that the piece was actually Vermeer’s. Such is the uphill battle when it comes to identifying many of Vermeer’s works (there are only 36 known works in his oeuvre), which cannot be traced in any written form back to his studio. Instead, these decisions are left up to individual critics like Thoré-Bürger, whom common folks like myself have no choice but to trust blindly.

With contemporary x-ray technology, one cannot simply hide their mistakes from researchers these days--you could say, the whole process is getting more transparent. The x-rays allow researchers to essentially peel each painting like an onion, observing drafts and painted-over content. In an x-ray of this painting, a painted-over painting of Cupid was found. This painting within the painting would have appeared on the wall above the girl’s head if Vermeer had not decided to paint over it. Maybe Vermeer felt that the painting of Cupid might make the contents of the letter too obvious, or perhaps it just didn’t look good, but Vermeer decided to paint over the image of Cupid and leave the wall blank instead.

This painting also inspired the London photographer Tom Hunter, who took a picture of his wife reading an eviction letter, dressed up and posing exactly like the woman in this painting. In an interview he referenced the photograph as one of his favorites, indicative of a time in his life when he was bouncing from house to house getting evicted. Not exactly the same message Vermeer was going for, but a lovely tribute nonetheless.




  1. Alicja Zelazko. (2018). Girl with a Pearl Earring. Britannica Online Academic Edition, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
  2. "Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window by VERMEER, Johannes." Stigmatization of St Catherine of Siena by BECCAFUMI, Domenico. Accessed September 18, 2018.
  3. Interview Andrew Pulver. (2009). G2: Arts: Photography: Tom Hunter's best shot 'It's inspired by Vermeer's Girl Reading a Letter - except she's a squatter reading a possession order'.(Guardian Features Pages). The Guardian (London, England), p. 23.
  4. Janson, Jonathan. "Critical Assessments: Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window." Understanding The Astronomer by Johannes Vermeer. Accessed September 18, 2018.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window (Dutch: Brieflezend meisje bij het venster) 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.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window.