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Woman at Her Toilette, c. 1658

Gabriel Metsu
Dutch, 1629-1667
Oil on panel
25-1/2 x 22-3/4 in. (64.8 x 57.8 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

Not on View

Depictions of a woman at her toilette were popular among collectors, and the topic allowed artists to describe the intimate confines of the Dutch home and its feminine space. The wistful outward gaze of the woman having her hair combed invites the viewer to contemplate her surroundings, perhaps to decipher her thoughts. A consummate painter of detail, Metsu uses light to enliven the interior of the room and the objects therein. It glows on the viola da gamba, sparkles across the ornate silver plate and suggests the diaphanous texture of the green drape that catches a puff of wind. The topic of a woman at her toilette has a long history in the visual arts that embraces both positive and negative connotations. The mirror, for instance, can suggest vanity or introspection. The playing of music, suggested by the sheet music and the stringed instrument, typically references love and, with the cast-off slipper nearby, perhaps longing. Such visual puzzles embedded in naturalistic scenes are characteristic of Dutch art in the 17th century.

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