A young woman looks up from her reading—possibly of an emblem book or illustrated treatise—absorbed in thought or distracted by something unseen. The theme was already well-established in the early 1660s, when this painting was likely made, and in his treatment Van der Neer suggests, in the young woman’s fine but modest attire, the silver writing set and sealing wax, and the extinguished candle (a conventional vanitas symbol), a degree of virtue and cultivation.
For two centuries, the painting was considered to be by Gerard ter Borch. Though clearly inspired by Ter Borch, the execution is decidedly Van der Neer’s own. The artist’s polished mature style brought him success and noble patronage later in his career.
From its first known appearance in a Rotterdam sale of 1730 until its bequest to the Museum in 1931, this painting was considered to be by Gerard ter Borch and the awkward monogram was not questioned. The attribution to Eglon van der Neer was suggested in 1935 by F. Schmidt-Degener, and accepted by the Museum in 1949. His authorship has been challenged occasionally, but Liedtke and other scholars concur with Gudlaugsson's conclusion that the execution is decisively typical of Eglon van der Neer and that the work, while clearly inspired by Ter Borch, does not necessarily record a lost composition by him.
There are two paintings by Eglon van der Neer dated 1665 which are closely related to the MMA work but were probably painted slightly later than it; one is in the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein, Vaduz, and the other was formerly at the Richard Green Galleries, London. Another picture that is closely related to this group is A Lady Drawing of about 1664/65 in the Wallace Collection, London.
Josua van Belle (until 1730; his sale, Rotterdam, September 6, 1730, no. 83, for 32 florins); Robbert de Neufville, Leiden (until 1736; his sale, Leiden, March 15, 1736, no. 10, for 38 florins); ?[J. Wijsman, until 1828; sale, Amsterdam, November 24, 1828, no. 172]; ?[Jean Bleuland, Utrecht; sale, Utrecht, May 6, 1839, no. 342, for 2,000 florins to Engelberts]; Messchert van Vollenhoven (until 1892; sale, Amsterdam, March 29, 1892, no. 4, for 4,300 florins); [Sedelmeyer, Paris, in 1898; cat., 1898, no. 217, ill., as "Lecture interrompue," by ter Borch]; Max Wasserman, Paris (in 1898); [Kleinberger, Paris, in 1910]; August de Ridder, Schönberg, near Cronberg in the Taunus (until d. 1911; cat., 1913, pl. 20; on loan to the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, in 1913; sale of his sequestered property, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, June 2, 1924, no. 82, as by ter Borch, for Fr 128,000); Michael Friedsam, New York (until d. 1931)
Amsterdam. location unknown. "Exposition Rétrospective," 1867, no. 195 (lent by Messchert van Vollenhoven?).
The Hague. location unknown. "Exposition Rétrospective," 1890, no. 14 (lent by Messchert van Vollenhoven?).
New York. F. Kleinberger Galleries. "The Collection of Pictures of the Late Herr A. de Ridder," November 24–December 15, 1913, no. 20 (as "A Girl, Reading," by Ter Borch).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.
Palm Beach. Society of the Four Arts. "Portraits, Figures and Landscapes," January 12–February 4, 1951, no. 30.
New York. American Federation of the Arts. "Little Masters in 17th Century Holland and Flanders (circulating exhibition)," 1954–57, no catalogue.
New York. Barnard College. "Feminine Elegance Through the Centuries," November 17–December 19, 1958, no catalogue.
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. "Leselust: Niederländische Malerei von Rembrandt bis Vermeer," September 24, 1993–January 2, 1994, no. 60.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.
Cambridge. Fitzwilliam Museum. "Vermeer's Women: Secrets and Silence," October 5, 2011–January 15, 2012, no. 21.
Gerard Hoet. Catalogus of Naamlyst van Schilderyen, met derzelver pryzen, zedert een langen reeks van Jaaren zoo in Holland als op andere Plaatzen in het openbaar verkogt. Vol. 1, The Hague, 1752, p. 358, no. 83, p. 459, no. 10, as by Ter Borch, in the 1730 Van Belle and 1736 de Neufville sales.
C[ornelis]. Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 5, London, 1913, p. 40, no. 103, as "The Interrupted Reading," by Ter Borch, with extensive provenance.
Wilhelm von Bode. The Collection of Pictures of the late Herr A. de Ridder in his Villa at Schönberg near Cronberg in the Taunus. Berlin, 1913, p. ?, pl. 20 [catalogue section unpaginated], as by Ter Borch; gives provenance and exhibitions.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], p. 15, as "The Reader," by Ter Borch; gives provenance, references, and exhibitions.
Bryson Burroughs and Harry B. Wehle. "The Michael Friedsam Collection: Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, section 2 (November 1932), p. 48, no. 83, as by Ter Borch.
S[turla]. J. Gudlaugsson. Gerard ter Borch. The Hague, 1959–60, vol. 1, p. 304, fig. 147b; vol. 2, p. 161, no. 147b, rejects the monogram, considers the execution decisively typical of Eglon van der Neer, and dismisses the idea that it could come from Ter Borch's studio on the basis of motifs.
W[alter]. L[iedtke]. inLiechtenstein: The Princely Collections. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1985, p. 272, under no. 174, defends the attribution to Van der Neer, but considers it a copy of a lost painting by Ter Borch.
David R. Smith. "Irony and Civility: Notes on the Convergence of Genre and Portraiture in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting." Art Bulletin 69 (September 1987), p. 418 n. 45.
Peter Hecht inDe Hollandse Fijnschilders: Van Gerard Dou tot Adriaen van der Werff. Exh. cat., Rijksmuseum. Amsterdam, 1989, p. 130, under no. 25, fig. 25c, relates the picture, which he considers "anonymous," to the Liechtenstein panel.
Maria A. Schenkeveld. Dutch Literature in the Age of Rembrandt. Amsterdam, 1991, p. iv, ill., and ill. on cover.
John Ingamells. The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Pictures. Vol. 4, Dutch and Flemish. London, 1992, p. 237, under no. P243, compares it to "A Lady Drawing" by Eglon van der Neer in the Wallace Collection; mistakenly states that the MMA work is dated 1665.
Bettina Werche inLeselust: Niederländische Malerei von Rembrandt bis Vermeer. Ed. Sabine Schulze. Exh. cat., Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. Frankfurt, 1993, pp. 256–57, no. 60, ill., suggests that the book is an emblem book; compares works by Ter Borch, and dates it about 1665.
Marjorie E. Wieseman inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 22, New York, 1996, p. 721.
Ger Luijten inMirror of Everyday Life: Genreprints in the Netherlands 1550–1700. Exh. cat., Rijksmuseum. Amsterdam, 1997, p. 304, fig. 6, as an "anonymous canvas" attributed to Eglon van der Neer; cites it as a rare example of a Dutch painting depicting someone reading for pleasure.
Wayne Franits. Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting: Its Stylistic and Thematic Evolution. New Haven, 2004, p. 300 n. 39, as possibly a copy by Eglon van der Neer after a painting by Gerard ter Borch.
Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), p. 39, fig. 49 (color).
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 513–16, no. 132, colorpl. 132.
Walter Liedtke. Vermeer: The Complete Paintings. Antwerp, 2008, p. 174.
Eddy Schavemaker. Eglon van der Neer (1635/36–1703): His Life and His Work. Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 2010, pp. 45, 459–60, no. 22, fig. 21 of chapter 2, pl. 22, suggests it may be identical with a work listed in the 1691 inventory of Margaretha van der Hem, widow of Jacob de Goyer, Amsterdam, and with a work in an Amsterdam sale of 1707 [see Ref. Gudlaugsson 1959–60, nos. 147d and 147e].
Marjorie E. Wieseman. Vermeer's Women: Secrets and Silence. Exh. cat., Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. New Haven, 2011, pp. v, 54, 194–95, no. 21, ill. (color, overall and details) and colorpl. 27 (detail).