The fashionably dressed figure, presented knee-length in a landscape, could be considered a portrait. But the vague depiction of the woman’s face, which is further obscured under the shadow of the beret, does not substantiate this interpretation.
For instance, see Death of Lucretia, dated 1679 (FM-103), or The Letter Writer, dated 1680, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
For Jan’s genre pictures made around the early 1680s, see the entry on another picture by this painter in the Leiden Collection, JM-101.
Present location now unknown. For A Woman Reading a Letter and Men Playing Tric-Trac beneath a Portico, see Otto Naumann, Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) the Elder, 2 vols. (Doornspijk, 1981), 1: fig. 129; 2:130, no. B7; Peter Sutton, ed., Love Letters: Dutch Genre Painting in the Age of Vermeer (Exh. cat. Greenwich, Conn., Bruce Museum; Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland) (London, 2003), 200–2, no. 43. Naumann later suggested that Jan would have been capable of executing this picture almost entirely by himself. For Training the Little Dog, see also the entry on JM-101 and sale, Charpentier, Paris, 6 April 1957, no. 1.
The date of the current picture is suggested by Margreet van der Hut, who is researching a monograph on Jan van Mieris. I am grateful to her for offering me some unpublished information on this artist. A Smoking Man (oil on panel, 19 x 14 cm, Stiftung Kunsthaus Heylshof, Worms) is one of the paintings by Jan van Mieris that was owned by Pieter de la Court van der Voort, the famous Leiden collector and patron of Willem van Mieris; see T. H. Lunsingh Scheurleer, ed., Het Rapenburg: Geschiedenis van een Leidse gracht, 6 vols. and index (Leiden, 1986–92), 6:479.
Johan van Gool, De nieuwe schouburg der Nederlantsche kunstschilders en schilderessen, 2 vols. (The Hague, 1750–51), 2:443.
Alain Roy, Gérard de Lairesse, 1640–1711 (Paris, 1992), 303–6, nos. P. 143–47; Ekkehard Mai, Sander Paarlberg, and Gregor J. M. Weber, eds., De Kroon op het Werk: Hollandse schilderkunst 1670–1750 (Exh. cat. Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum; Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum; Kassel, Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel) (Cologne, 2006), 200–1, no. 47. Lairesse painted these works between 1675 and 1683.
“De bevalligheid moet noodzakelyk in Moderne Verbeeldingen waargenomen worden.” Gerard de Lairesse, Het Groot Schilderboek, 2 vols. (Amsterdam, 1707), 1:177. For Lairesse’s instructions on adapting important qualities of history painting to genre pictures, see Junko Aono, “Ennobling Daily Life: A Question of Refinement in Early Eighteenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting,” Simiolus 33, no. 4 (2007/8): 240–43; and Junko Aono, Confronting the Golden Age: Imitation and Innovation in Dutch Genre Painting 1680-1750 (Amsterdam, 2015), 101-3.
Although the bend of the woman’s right arm seems far from natural in an anatomical sense, this type of “curved” arm was what Jan van Mieris had initially learned from his father’s later works, likely as a method to idealize or classicize ordinary people. For Otto Naumann’s discussion on the “curved” elbow depicted by Frans van Mieris the Elder, see Otto Naumann, “Frans van Mieris’ Personal Style,” in Frans van Mieris 1635–1681, ed. Quentin Buvelot (Exh. cat. The Hague, Mauritshuis; Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art) (Zwolle, 2005), 37–41.
The characterization of the wood is based on visual examination only.