Each brushstroke of Vermeer’s Milkmaid echoes the rustic atmosphere, as the texture of the paint is more pronounced than in his portraits of upper class women. The yellow pigment of the milkmaid’s dress, mixed with touches of brown, is also used in the fur-trimmed jackets of other paintings. Her face, in turn, has tiny dabs of yellow. The brushstrokes are carefully placed, giving a sculptural quality to the forms while delicately integrating the play of light on every surface.
The recurrence of the yellow coat probably means that he owned it as a prop, as it was listed in the inventory of possessions after his death. The woman in The Love Letter also has a golden-yellow gown underneath, and is really the focal point of painting with its complex composition and perspective. The maid-mistress-letter dynamic was a popular topic of the time, but Vermeer’s love of light, color, and subtlety shines through more than anything, giving his work a timeless quality.
In Woman with a Lute, the yellow jacket seems to merge with the light coming from the window, as it casts a subtle glow over the girl’s face, who is most likely his wife or one of his eldest daughters. The yellow and blue color scheme appears in his work repeatedly, and he sometimes used a costly glaze made of lapis lazuli, probably given to him by one of his wealthier patrons.
The yellow jacket always appears with a different interplay of shadow and texture, and A Lady Writing exemplifies the luscious quality of the fabric as it is suffused with a warm glow. Such coats were worn by wealthier women during the cold Dutch winters, and Vermeer paints this particular one with care that strives towards the transcendent combination of light, color, and paint.