The Wallace Collection

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The Letter Writer Surprised
  • Gabriel Metsu (1629 - 1667)
  • The Letter Writer Surprised
  • Netherlands
  • c.1658 - c. 1660
  • Painting
  • Oil on oak panel
  • Image size: 45.2 x 38.6 cm
  • Signature: 'Ga… / M…'
  • P240
  • East Galleries II
Commentary
History
Further Reading
  • The narrative and humorous quality in some of Metsu’s domestic scenes reveal the influence of his younger contemporary, Jan Steen. After he moved to Amsterdam from Leiden in 1657 he adopted elements from the more elegant works of ter Borch; from Maes and de Hooch he learned a subtle treatment of light and space. In seventeenth-century Dutch paintings young people reading or writing letters are invariably indicators of amorous intrigue. Here, the lady is so absorbed in answering the letter propped against the inkstand before her, that she neglects her domestic duties (symbolized by the sewing basket) and fails to notice the jealous lover who angrily peers over her shoulder. The bass-viol standing idle in the foreground underscores the lack of harmony between the couple in the painting. Metsu, perhaps following Jan Steen, appears to have given the scene an added self-mocking resonance by including his own portrait in the character of the deceived lover.