Update + more fun with Vermeer—We’ve written the rest of the letter based on Beth’s opening line and made several the stars in a video valentine.

Woman in Blue Reading a Letter / Vermeer

Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, about 1663–64, Johannes Vermeer. 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)

The paintings of Johannes Vermeer are tantalizing and elusive. We want to know what his models—often young, beautiful women—are thinking and feeling, but we can never know. We can only imagine.

As a multimedia writer at the Museum, my job is to help visitors use imagination to connect with art. I travel between past and present, learning and sharing what’s known and what’s not known about artworks, artists, and subjects. Imagination erases the distance between “older” works of art and our 21st-century lives.

Vermeer painted several women reading letters, which are famously enigmatic. Next week we’re meeting one of them firsthand: Woman in Blue Reading a Letter from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam arrives at the Getty Center on Saturday, February 16, for a six-week visit.

A young woman stands before a window. The light casts a glow across her face, and she looks enraptured. She grips the top of a letter with both hands, as if she has just eagerly unfolded it. Her eyes are downcast, her lips parted…In anticipation? Pleasure? Astonishment?

Detail of woman's face and letter in Woman in Blue Reading a Letter / Vermeer

What is she reading? Detail of Woman in Blue Reading a Letter by Johannes Vermeer. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. On loan from the City of Amsterdam (A. van der Hoop Bequest)

The first question that comes to my mind is: What does this letter say? Is it a love letter? I imagine it is; there’s a strong tradition in Dutch 17th-century painting of using letters to hint at women’s secret yearnings. If so, who is sending her this intimate missive? A traveling husband? A secret lover? A man, or perhaps a woman? Is it a letter that, as she reads further, will bring joy or heartache? Or both?

As we eagerly await the young woman’s arrival, we’ve been actively imagining what this letter might say, and how it might begin.

What do you imagine the first line of this letter might say? In celebration of the painting and your creativity, I’ll take on the challenge to write the rest of the letter based on one of your suggestions, and publish it here on The Iris, with special thanks to you.

Let’s get started. Write the first line of this letter and I’ll do my best to continue the story!