Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Love Letter

Artist:
Jacob Ochtervelt (Dutch, Rotterdam 1634–1682 Amsterdam)
Date:
early 1670s
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
36 x 25 in. (91.4 x 63.5 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Mendelsohn, 1980
Accession Number:
1980.203.5
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 632
Ochtervelt was a co-pupil of Pieter de Hooch under Nicolaas Bercham in Haarlem. He worked in his native Rotterdam from about 1655 to 1674, and then moved to Amsterdam. This typical scene of elegant domestic life was painted around 1670, when Ochtervelt was strongly influenced by Gerard ter Borch.
This unsigned canvas first came to light in 1980. Susan Donahue Kuretsky, whose monograph on Ochtervelt was published the year before, examined the work prior to its accession by the Museum and confirmed its authorship (see Liedtke 2007). Sutton (2003) reasonably suggests a date in the early 1670s.

The subject is a pretty woman at her toilet, wearing a white satin housecoat over a coral-colored skirt. She gestures with enthusiasm as she reads a letter that must be from a suitor. A maid (whose head has been simplified by abrasion) threads a string of pearls through her mistress's hair. A second servant leaves the room (a doorway is dimly indicated in the center background) carrying a silver basin and pitcher. A canopied bed stands in the right background. To the near right is a table covered with an Oriental carpet and a chair upholstered in a silver fabric, apparently silk. A fine silver box is on the seat, and a lapdog lies near the lady's delicate foot.

In style and subject, the picture responds to works by Gerard ter Borch—The Met's Curiosity (49.7.38), for example, and The Letter (Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace, London), both dating from the early 1660s. Although the present composition is original, the shadowy interior, with a bed and table forming a corner, figures grouped closely together, and a young woman whose satin garment glistens in the light are all features typical of Ter Borch, whose work was admired by other artists active in South Holland, such as Caspar Netscher in The Hague and Johannes Vermeer in Delft, as well as by Ochtervelt in Rotterdam. Both a seated woman reading a letter and a maid dressing a young woman's hair are motifs found in paintings of the early 1660s by Ter Borch.

The pitcher and basin perhaps refer here to purity, though Ochtervelt was not one to dwell on didactic ideas. The most important motif in the picture could be described, literally, as material, namely, the satin garment, one of the finest examples in the artist's oeuvre.

[2017; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Mr. and Mrs. Walter Mendelsohn, New York (until 1980)
Dublin. National Gallery of Ireland. "Love Letters: Dutch Genre Paintings in the Age of Vermeer," October 1–December 31, 2003, no. 41 (as "A Woman Reading a Letter with Two Maidservants").

Greenwich, Conn. Bruce Museum. "Love Letters: Dutch Genre Paintings in the Age of Vermeer," January 31–May 2, 2004, no. 41.

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.

Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. "Communication: Visualizing the Human Connection in the Age of Vermeer," June 25–October 16, 2011, no. 31.

Sendai. Miyagi Museum of Art. "Communication: Visualizing the Human Connection in the Age of Vermeer," October 27–December 12, 2011, no. 31.

Tokyo. Bunkamura Museum of Art. "Communication: Visualizing the Human Connection in the Age of Vermeer," December 23, 2011–March 14, 2012, no. 31.

Walter A. Liedtke in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1980–1981. New York, 1981, p. 44, ill., dates it about 1670 and notes the influence of Ter Borch.

Peter C. Sutton in Love Letters: Dutch Genre Paintings in the Age of Vermeer. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. Greenwich, Conn., 2003, pp. 193–95, no. 41, ill. (color), dates it to the early 1670s; relates it to "The Letter Reader" (fig. 1; whereabouts unknown).

Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 522–23, no. 134, colorpl. 134, agrees with Sutton's [see Ref. 2003] dating to the early 1670s.

Alexandra B. Libby in Human Connections in the Age of Vermeer. Exh. cat., Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. Tokyo, 2011, pp. 106–8, no. 31, ill. (color).



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