Gabriel Metsu, 1629-1667
A Lady Receiving a Letter, ca. 1658
Oil on wood panel, 25.7 x 24.4 cm (10-1/8 x 9-5/8 in.)
Writing letters became fashionable in Europe in the seventeenth century after the establishment of a postal system. Gabriel Metsu's painting is part of a Dutch tradition of images dealing with the popular subject of the love letter. The young woman, seated in an arcade, receives a letter from a young messenger. Beyond the arcade is a classically styled Palladian villa that conveys elegance and wealth. This panel is the companion to another painting by Metsu, today in the Musée Fabre in France, showing a man writing a letter. The two panels complement one another in size and subject, and the young man and the young woman may be the artist and his wife.
The Dowager Boreel, Amsterdam, her sale (v.d. Schley, Yver, Roos, de Vries), Amsterdam, September 23, 1814, pp. 6–7, lot 8 (950 florins, Van Yperen) 
Matthias Ignatius van Iperen (dealer), Amsterdam, 1814–(?)
King of Sardinia (?) 
Mr. Stanley, London, The Catalogue of a Superb Collection of Truly Valuable Dutch and Flemish Cabinet Pictures…, auction cat., June 7, 1815, p. 13, lot 170 (£210, bought in) 
Mme Le Rouge, Paris, her sale, (Laneuville), Paris, April 27, 1818, p. 22, no. 34 (bought in? , 5080 francs) 
Lambert Jan Nieuwenhuys (dealer), Brussels 
Auguste-Marie-Raimond, prince of Arenberg, Brussels, by 1829
Duke of Arenberg, Brussels (by inheritance) –1958 
Wildenstein & Co., New York
Acquired by the Putnam Foundation, 1958 
 C. Hofstede de Groot (A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, 8 vols. [London, 1908–27], 1:310–11, no. 183 [cf. nos. 24, 262]), provides these details, including price and alternate spelling of the buyer’s name.
 The Hague, Mauritshuis, and The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Great Dutch Paintings from America, 1990/91, exh. cat. by Ben Broos, pp. 330–33, no. 42, ill. (shown San Francisco only)
 Bought in at £210 per HdG, 1908. Seller was anonymous per Getty Provenance Index database.
 Peter C. Sutton, et al. (Love Letters: Dutch Genre Paintings in the Age of Vermeer [London, 2003]) lists the buyer as “Le Rouge.” This might indicate the piece was bought in, or purchased from the estate by another family member.
 Price per HdG, 1908. Mme Le Rouge died ca. 1818 per Getty Provenance Index database.
 Citation for this owner not located.
 August Marguillier (“L’Exposition des maîtres anciens à Düsseldorf,” Gazette des Beaux Arts 32 , p. 284) cites “au Duc d’Arenberg.” HdG, 1908, states, “Now in the collection of the Duc d’Arenberg, Brussels.” Edouard Plietzsch (“Gabriel Metsu,” Pantheon 17 [January 1936], p. 5, ill.) cites the location as “Ehemals Brüssel, Herzog von Arenberg.”
 November 21, 1958
The suggestion by the Art Loss Register that the painting might be the same as that lost from the Kunstmuseum, Dresden, can be ruled out. The dimensions differ, and the Dresden piece is merely attributed to Metsu in Verlorene Werke der Malerei in Deutschland in der Zeit von 1939–1945, the published list of works lost from German museums in the period 1939–1945, while the Timken painting has long been recognized as being among his most characteristic and masterly pieces. Finally, the literature cited in Verlorene Werke does not refer to this painting.
A claim regarding this painting, and a number of others in the Putnam Foundation collection, was presented in 2004 by an attorney representing members of the Oppenheimer family. Although the family lost a number of works to Nazi looting, none of the Oppenheimer paintings, which were sold in early 1935 in a Nazi-sanctioned auction, correspond to pieces owned by the Timken.
An inquiry to Wildenstein, New York, (in progress) should reveal additional information regarding the date and conditions of sale by the Duke of Arenberg to that firm. If Wildenstein is able to confirm, as expected, purchase directly from Arenberg, then there is no reason to question the World War II-era provenance of this painting.