Johannes Vermeer Paints Woman in Blue Reading a Letter

The Woman in Blue Reading a Letter is a painting finished around 1663-1664 by the Dutch Baroque painter Johannes Vermeer.

It is housed in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

As in the Girl with a Pearl Earring, a solitary figure of a woman is standing immersed in her thoughts, this time in the center of the composition. She reads a letter and seems completely absorbed by it.

This painting stands out by the simplification of the composition, which does away with the previously mandatory leaden window to the left. Even the chairs and table surrounding the principal and single figure have lost in importance. Only the map on the wall breaks the uniformity. Vermeer's palette has become very delicate and sophisticated. Blue predominates by its widespread use in the woman's jacket.

The foreground again gains in emphasis according to the precepts derived from the inverted telescope.

Otherwise, the viewer is only confronted with the pure majesty of the main figure, set against the clear wall, whose luminosity is balanced by the brownish map. In its classical simplicity, grandeur and almost abstract conception, this is one of Vermeer's masterpieces.

The compositional refinements in Vermeer's paintings are so exquisite that it is difficult to understand how he achieved them. His mastery or perspective does not account for the sensitive arrangements of his figures or for the subtle proportions he established between pictorial elements. Perhaps he worked with a compass and ruler, as did Pieter Saendredam (1597- 1665), or perhaps he developed a mathematical system for determining the relationships of compositional elements. Whatever the system, it succeeded because of the artist's unique sensitivity to structure as a vehicle for his artistic aims.