In Johannes Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden in Dresden, Germany, began a dramatic restoration two years ago to reveal a Cupid buried behind layers of paint (ca. 1657). The overpainting has now been removed from the famous painting, which now has an image of Cupid on the wall behind the despondent young woman.
The newly released image is said to depict a woman reading a love letter, according to experts. The public will now be able to put that notion to the test. The restored canvas will be on display for the first time in September at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, the museum’s painting gallery.
The painting, which was produced around 1657 and bought for Dresden’s city collections in 1742, has been a focal point of the painting gallery ever since. For years, the artwork was assigned to two different artists: Rembrandt and Pieter de Hooch. After French art critic Théophile Thoré-Bürger discovered it in the gallery in 1880, it was named a Vermeer.
An X-ray study of the painting in 1979 revealed the existence of the hidden Cupid for the first time. Researchers thought Vermeer had painted over the Cupid picture, leaving a blank white wall behind the young woman, at the time. In 2017, Christoph Schölzel, the painting conservator of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, undertook a more thorough examination of the canvas, which indicated that the overpainting was done sometime after Vermeer’s death in the 18th century.
At an open window, a girl reads a letter. was formerly on show in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in 2019 in a semi-restored state. Researchers were still removing a thick coating of varnish that had darkened over time, giving the cool colors of the picture a yellowish tinge, so the Cupid was only half-exposed. Schölzel used a microscope and a scalpel to meticulously scrape away the layers of overpainting, preserving the original paint.
This fall, the fully restored picture will be the show’s highlight. The Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (1663–64), on loan from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, and the Lady Standing at a Virginal (1670–72) will be among the nine Vermeer paintings on display. (Those paintings account for nearly a quarter of all of Vermeer’s known canvases.) There will also be 50 works of Dutch art from the second half of the 17th century on show, including works by Pieter de Hooch, Frans van Mieris, and Gerard Ter Borc.