“Feel like writing a letter in Autumn.” This is the first line of the song “Autumn letter,” sung by singer Choi Yang-suk, which made a big hit. The song was released in 1971 but received broad affection across generations by being remade by many singers. This famous Korean pop music oddly reminds us of the 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s paintings.
Johannes Vermeer indeed seems to have loved letters. He left only 35 pieces of paintings, among which were many with the theme of letters. In this painting as well, a blond girl reading a letter appears. Maybe the girl’s love could have sent the letter? The gracefully dressed girl’s eyes are pinned to the letter as if not to miss a type, and her cheeks are blushing. The sun lights coming through the open window make her cheeks prominent. The luxurious carpet covering the table is crumpled, and fruits are tumbling out from the slanted dish.
Usually, the window stands for the passage to the outside world. The open window would probably mean women’s eagerness to break away from the social restrictions or home. The fruit could mean physical love, but the pouring out fruit could be interpreted as having affairs. The person who sent the letter could be a man with an inappropriate relationship.
Dresden Old Masters Picture Gallery owned this painting in Germany from 1742, but it no longer exists because the image has changed. Furthermore, it is not the original. After the painting was found to have been modified by recoating after the painter passed away, large-scale restoration efforts started in 2018. What was the painting like after it was open to the public after restoration work? OMG! A massive painting of Cupid filled the whole wall.
What did the audience think? More people were disappointed at Cupid, dominating the wall space and the more complicated composition. Some asked to reverse it to the previous painting. People may have been even more disappointed as the girl in the painting seemed neither lonely nor virtuous anymore, unlike the lyrics of “Autumn letter.”