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 well-preserved 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.
The painting depicts a young Dutch blonde 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.
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." 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. This putto once hung in the upper right of the piece before, for whatever reason, Vermeer drew the draperies over it.
The draperies themselves, hanging in the right foreground, are not an uncommon element for Vermeer, appearing in seven of his paintings. 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. It was the last painting in which Vermeer featured this device.
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. 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. 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.
...The painting was investigated by Hermann Kühn together with several other works of Vermeer in 1968. 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.