A young woman is fashionably dressed in the ermine-trimmed yellow jacket that appears in other Vermeers. She is writing, and has looked up from her work with a questioning glance; again, Vermeer has caught the perfect balance between a quiet, still environment, and the movement of individuals within it. The darkness in the background emphasizes the brilliant, delicious yellow satin of the jacket, and the sheen of the pearls in the woman's earrings and on the table. Her face is perfectly framed by the ermine, the pearls, and by hair-ribbons.
This painting is thought to be influenced by Gerard Ter Borch's Woman Writing a Letter, painted in 1655. The two artists were friends, and cosigned a legal document in 1653. In the Ter Borch, however, the emphasis is on the writing, but Vermeer uses that as a springboard to paint a sensitive, individual portrait.
This painting was owned by the magistrate of the Bahamas from 1940-43, Sir Harry Oakes, until he was murdered for refusing a Casino licence.