Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, Paintings

Dear “Woman in Blue,” Let Me Tell You Of…

Steve Gemmel in the galleries with Vermeer's Woman in Blue

Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, Johannes Vermeer, about 1663–64. Oil on canvas, 18 5/16 x 15 3/8 in. (49.6 x 40.3 cm). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. On loan from the City of Amsterdam (A. van der Hoop Bequest)

Vermeer’s Woman in Blue inspires love wherever she goes. When we invited you to imagine the first line of that mysterious letter she’s holding, you responded with nearly 200 creative ideas (and counting) via The Iris, Facebook, and Twitter—from the heartfelt to the hilarious (and a few that are both).

Vermeer’s lady is receiving gushy missives from husbands and illicit lovers; business offers; ransom notes; even a letter from Rembrandt. Some letters reflect extensive historical research, others delightfully out-there imaginations. There are clever plot twists, clever wordplays; even clever ideas (an invoice for the painting!) without a specific opening line. We’ve even received a few notes in Dutch, and some complete story lines (note to Hollywood: sequel to Girl with a Pearl Earring?). We love them all so much, we put on our amateur acting caps and read several of the most stirring opening lines for this communal video valentine.

But I did say I’d pick just one of these opening lines by this week and use it to write the rest of your letter. The task was tough, but I kept coming back to a prophetic one-liner shared by Beth, which reads simply, “Let me tell you of the future.” Here is my attempt at the rest—I have no doubt that you can do better (much better!), and I invite you to do so in the comments.

Dear woman in blue,

Let me tell you of the future.

You will be forgotten. Your name, your age, your family, your home, the child you carry—of them, future generations will know nothing. And it is normal that it be so. For we are ordinary people, not popes and queens for the history books. Of our quietly lived but deeply felt lives, the details slowly fade.

Map of California circa 1600sYour image, however, will be immortal. Through it, you will travel far—not by horse and cart, or merchant ship, but through the sky. You will leave your country and go to lands of which you can hardly dream: Shanghai, the Portuguese colonies (they will call it “Brazil”), that poorly mapped western island of America the Spanish have named California. Illustrious individuals, including Dutch compatriot Vincent van Gogh more than two centuries hence, will draw inspiration from you. There will be wars, and republics, and kings and queens. But in the end, though you will leave your home of Delft, you will not go far—just north to the big city, Amsterdam, whose museum will offer you pride of place forever.

Of you we will remember only one fleeting moment, the cool morning when you unfolded this letter and, filled with emotions we will never tire of guessing, gasped. And for this we are grateful. For this ordinary moment speaks to all of us who seek the extraordinary: to love and be loved.

With deep affection,

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  1. Connie Baker
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Dear woman in blue,

    Two apart, one in heart.

  2. Kenneth Rice
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Fair lady;

    For you to initiate a correspondence at this time compels me to reply.

  3. Ron Webster
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Your delicate fingers must now be so near the ink pulled by these tender fibers from this pen.

  4. Kat Liu
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Dear Woman in Blue. I have left you for a Lady in Red.

  5. Joe Perry
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    “Before assembling your IKEA camera obscura, please carefully read the following set of instructions…”

  6. Shawna Koder
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Dearest Daughter,
    Now that you have married the man I had chosen for you and carry his child, I write to inform you the first and last of the fate of your illegitimate 5 year old son Heinric, is that I have sent him to the New World, New Haarlem, to be indentured as servant to the potter Van Kleek until he reaches the age of 25 years or death, whichever comes to him first.

  7. Kiyohiko Noda
    Posted March 2, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    You are in the far-off empty other side. Will my thought arrive on your mind?

  8. Viola
    Posted March 6, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Dear Anne,

    I do not have any suggestions for the rest of the letter. I just wanted to say that your text made my cry (while sitting at work). It is beatiful and very poetic.


  9. paradise
    Posted March 29, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    bye woman in blue,
    “why does your love, hurt so much… don’t know why,
    why does your love, hurt so much… tell me why”

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      A Chat with Photographer Tomoko Sawada

      A conversation about Japanese matchmaking traditions, self-portraiture, clothes, and identity.

      When did you start photographing yourself?
      I began making self-portraits when I was 19. It was an assignment for a photography class. I can’t even explain in Japanese why I liked them so much. It was instinctual. It’s as if I knew that this was going to be my style, that this is what I wanted to do. And I’m still doing it because I love the self-portrait, but I don’t know why. 

      What themes are you exploring in your work?
      I’m interested in the relationship between inside and outside. If you wear a sexy dress or if you wear kids clothes or casual clothes, people treat you differently. Even though you are you no matter what you wear. It’s that relationship that makes me think. 

      My new work is from when I was living in New York. When I was in New York, people didn’t think I was Japanese. Sometimes they thought I was Korean or Chines or Mongolian. Even Singaporean. It was funny, when I would go to the Japanese market, they would speak to me in English. When I went to the Korean market, they would speak to me in English again. I don’t seem to look Japanese outside of Japan. I was surprised because I think I look totally Japanese. It’s funny that people’s points of view are totally different.

      Could you talk a little about OMIAI, the series that represents a traditional Japanese matchmaking technique.
      OMIAI is a tradition that is somehow still working today. Usually, there is a matchmaker and photographs are exchanged before meeting. If both sides are interested, they can meet for lunch or dinner accompanied by their parents and steps for marriage proceed from there. In the old days, some people chose their marriage partner just through photographs, without even meeting each other. 

      When OMIAI was exhibited in Japan I saw people making various comments in from of the work. People would say things like, “she looks like a good cook; surely she would prepare delicious meals every day,” or “ this girl could be a perfect bride for my son,” or “I can tell she would not be a good housewife,” or “she’s such a graceful girl; she must be the daughter of a decent family.” Comments like that. 

      What was the process of making that work?
      I gained 10 pounds before I started taking the pictures, and in six months I lost forty pounds, because I wanted to look different in each photo. I wanted to change the way my legs looked. 

      Every weekend I went to the hair salon and put on a kimono. Then I went to the photo studio on the street in Japan. I would take a picture and then change my clothes to western dress. Then I would go to the studio again the next weekend. 

      Did you tell the photographer how you wanted it done?
      I told him I was an artist and wanted to make photographs with him. I told him to think that each weekend new girls would show up to make the OMIAI. I didn’t want him to think of me as the same girl who came every weekend. He understood the concept. 

      We had fun. While he was taking pictures, his wife would tell me how to lose weight. She gave me many tips.

      Tomoko Sawada’s work is on view at the Getty until February 21, 2016 in “The Younger Generation: Contemporary Japanese Photography”


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