The Tête-à-Tête: A Lady Playing a Lute, and a Cavalier

Artist or maker:
Metsu, Gabriel (b.1629, d.1669)
dated stylistically
Place of production:
Amsterdam, Netherlands
oil on panel
Type of object:
Accession number:


Traditionally known as ‘The Tête-à-Tête’, this painting is characteristic of the high-life genre scenes for which Metsu is particularly celebrated. While the carriage, manners and dress of the figures and the expensively furnished interior are carefully described, the narrative possibilities of the scene are left more open. The viewer is encouraged to create a story around the visual elements.

The painting focuses on a single moment. The man offers the woman a glass of wine. He holds it by the stem as polite etiquette manuals of the period prescribed. The man looks at the woman’s face. She looks at the glass, not at the man. She has stopped her music making to consider his gesture. This seems to be a potential turning point for the woman and she must chose how to conduct herself. However, the details of the choice and her possible response are not made clear.

The woman may be entertaining a suitor or she may be a prostitute entertaining a client. The man wears a uniform and the flag of his troop is visible behind him. Wearing a feathered hat, he has entered the woman’s domestic space from the world outside. The painting is full of sexual innuendo. The bright light in the room behind gives prominence to the bed. The cavalier’s sword points towards the woman’s foot warmer which was a common symbol of female sexual desire in the seventeenth century. Oysters - on the plate between the couple – were believed to stimulate lust. The tapestry on the shadowy back wall of the room seems to depict the Virgin and Child, which introduces a moralising note to the scene.

This was one of the several paintings that five members of the Rothschild family bought from the celebrated Van Loon collection in 1877. Born in Leiden, Metsu also worked in Utrecht and Amsterdam.

Juliet Carey and Phillippa Plock, 2012

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
476 x 401
Signature & date:
signed, upper right on the door lintel: G. Metsūe


Possibly owned by Jeronimus Tonneman (b.1687, d.1750 ) around 1718; Acquired by Willem van Loon (b.1794, d.1847) before 1826; inherited by his wife Annewies van Loon (b.1793, d.1877); sold from the estate of Anneweis van Loon, listed as 'L'entreuvue', lot 2, no. 53, valued at 200,000 fr in manuscript relating to sale (Rothschild Archive London RAL 000/848); acquired by Ferdinand de Rothschild (b.1839, d.1898) from van Loon collection; inherited by his sister Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1957.
Exhibition history:
Royal Academy Exhibition, London, 1880, no. 74, lent by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957



Arnold Houbraken; De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstchilders en shilderessen; 3 vols; The Hague; Arnold Houbraken; 1718-1721; vol. 3, pp. 41-42; possibly describes this work (quoted in Roelofs (2010)).
John Smith; A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters; 9 vols; London; Smith and Son; 1829-1842; vol. 4, p. 103, no. 95, suppl. no. 27.
Cornelis Hofstede de Groot; A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Vols 1-4 [1907-1927]; Bishops Stortford; Chadwick Healey; 1976; vol. 1, pp. 295-96, no. 148; wrongly as in collection of Edmond de Rothschild, Paris.
Christopher White, Dutch and Flemish Paintings at Waddesdon Manor, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 54, August 1959, 67-74; pp. 71-72, fig. 4, p. 78, n. 8; gives incorrect provenance.
Sir Francis Watson, The Art Collections at Waddesdon Manor I: The Paintings, Apollo, 69, June 1959, 172-182; p. 181, XII, p. 177, fig XII.
Ellis Waterhouse, Anthony Blunt; Paintings: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre, The National Trust; 1967; pp. 156-157, cat. no. 65, ill.
Uwe M. Schneede, Gabriel Metsu und der hollandische Realismus, Oud Holland, 83, 1968, 45-61; pp. 52, 60, fig. 14.
Mark Girouard, Insatiable and discerning: Curiosity-hunting with the Rothschilds, Apollo, 139, 1994, 14-19; p. 18, fig. 5.
Pieter Roelofs; Early Owners of Paintings by Metsu in Leiden and Amsterdam; Adriaan Waiboer, Gabriel Metsu: Rediscovered Master of the Dutch Golden Age, Dublin, New Haven, London, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 4 September - 5 December 2010; Rijkmuseum, Amsterdam, 16 December 2010 - 21 March 2011; National Gallery of Art, Washington, 17 April - 24 July 2011, National Gallery of Ireland, Yale University Press, 2010; pp. 119-121, fig. 84; as 'A Man Offering a Glass of Wine to a Woman Tuning a Lute', dated 1662-1665.
Adriaan Waiboer; Gabriel Metsu: Life and Work: A Catalogue Raisonné; New Haven, London; Yale University Press; 2012; p. 268, cat. A-128.

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