Paintings Acquired from Vermeer During or Soon after the Artist's Death
Heindrick Van Buyten - "two personages one of which the one sits and writes a letter" & "a personage playing on a zither"
Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid
Oil on canvas, 71.1 x 58.4 cm.
National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
Heindrick van Buyten, a well-to-do baker and prominent citizen of Delft, owned at one time or another at least three paintings by Vermeer. One year after the artist's death in 1675, Van Buyten received two pictures from Vermeer's wife Catharina as a security against a very substantial debt of more than 600 guilders (such a sum was roughly the equivalent of the price paid for a small house in the Netherlands in those times). One of the works was described as "two personages one of which the one sits and writes a letter," probably Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid, and the other, "a personage playing on a zither," probably the London Guitar Player. After the baker's death in 1701, the former work was encountered "in the vestibule" of his home as "a large painting by Vermeer." In another room hung "two little pieces by Vermeer."
During a visit to Delft in 1666 made expressly to meet Vermeer, the Delft artist was unable, or unwilling, to show the French diplomat and connoisseur Balthasar De Moncony even a single painting. The Frenchman was sent to a baker's house (most likely Van Buyten's) where he saw a painting by Vermeer with but a single figure. Van Buyten estimated the value of his painting at 600 guilders. The Frenchman balked. He thought was far too costly. In his opinion, it was worth one tenth of that price. The writer Anthony Bailey speculated that likely candidate for the 600-guilder, single-figured painting could be Woman in Blue Reading a Letter or Woman with a Water Pitcher taking into consideration the approximate dates of the paintings and the year of De Monconys' visit.