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Seven Dutch Masters: Pieter de Hooch

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De Hooch
Pieter de Hooch, The Visit
Soldiers Playing Cards, Pieter de Hooch
A Woman Drinking with Two Men, and a serving Woman, Pieter dde Hooch
A Mother and Child with Its head in her lap (Maternal Duty), Pieter de Hooch
A Woman Nursing an Infant with a Chicld and a Dog, Pieter de Hooch
A Woman Reading a Letter by a Window, Pieter de Hooch
Pieter de Hooch

Rotterdam 1629 Amsterdam after 1683 (?)

De Hooch was baptized on 20 December, 1629 in Rotterdam, the son of a bricklayer. He studied under Berchem, and with Jacob Ochtervelt in Haarlem in the late 1640s. He was in Delft by 1652 and in 1653 was working as a servant and painter for the linen-merchant Justus de la Grange. At his betrothal in 1654, he was said to be resident in Rotterdam, but he became a member of the Delft guild in 1655 and remained there until 1660/1, when he moved to Amsterdam presumably, in order to find more affluent clients.

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  • Gerrit ter Borch
  • Carel Fabritius
  • Pieter de Hooch
  • Gabriel Metsu

De Hooch is noted for his interior scenes and use of light and best known for his early works, which he painted in Delft. His favorite subjects were middle-class families in ordinary interiors and sunny courtyards, performing their humble daily duties in a calm atmosphere disrupted only by the radiant entry of natural light penetrating a door or window. Critics believe that it was De Hooch who influenced Vermeer rather than the contrary. De Hooch repeated his basic compositions many times, so that his later works are static and less interesting.

In his early thirties De Hooch moved to Amsterdam, where he stayed for the remainder of his life. Little is known of his life or work in this period. De Hooch's colors darkened and his simple domestic interiors were replaced by palatial halls and country villas. His address in these years suggests that he lived in a poor neighborhood of Amsterdam. During his final years, the quality of De Hooch's paintings deteriorated alarmingly; these developments may have been related to his death in an insane asylum at the age of fifty-five.

Vermeer felt the full impact of De Hooch's work only in the late 1650s, when his handling of light and perspective began to reflect the technical achievements of his slightly older colleague. Later on, though, it was De Hooch who fell under the sway of the more imaginative of the two artists. The presence in Delft of De Hooch and, at least on an intermittent basis, of Jan Steen in the mid-I650s helped offset the great loss the city had suffered with the loss of Carel Fabritius in the Delft powderhouse explosion in October 1654.

expert opinion: Alejandro Vergara

It is possibly Pieter de Hooch, who learned most from Maes' art. Particularly the dignity of the treatment of domestic subjects, the preference for themes such as the relationship between a lady and her maid, and above all, the geometry of the spaces and the warmth of the light which illuminates them. De Hooch was born in Rotterdam in 1629 and produced his most characteristic works during the period when he lived in Delft, where he is documented for the first time in 1652 and where he entered the painters' guild in 1655. His first known paintings date from the years 1653–54, when he worked for a collector called Justus de la Granje who ultimately owned 11 of his paintings. De Hooch's masterpieces date from the end of the 1650s and represent interiors or courtyards of houses with animated figures. The space is organized following a strict geometry and generally includes views into adjoining rooms. In these scenes light plays a key role, creating strong contrasts between the illuminated areas and those left in shade and emphasizing the differences between the various materials. In 1660 or 1661 De Hooch moved to Amsterdam to look for new clients. The paintings he produced from then on until his death in 1684 show figures and homes from a wealthier and more elegant social class than chose of his earlier works.

The figures in De Hooch's paintings are usually members of the middle classes who are seen at their domestic tasks, reflecting a virtuous mode of living. However, he also painted scenes of seduction, undoubtedly influenced by the success of Ter Borch's paintings of such subjects in the first half of the 1650s. The quality of light in his paintings and the pleasure with which he recreates the textures and the beauty of everyday objects contributes to the welcoming, comforting mood of his interiors. The great innovation of De Hooch's painting is the importance which it gives to the middle-class setting, while its most unique quality is the absolutely convincing naturalism of his paintings which rely on the treatment of light and space and the psychological proximity of the figures. As we stand before one of De Hooch's paintings, we feel that we have stepped inside a seventeenth-century home.

There is no document to prove that De Hooch and Vermeer were friends or had any professorial relations, but the similarities between their paintings must imply that there was contact between the two artists. It seems likely that De Hooch who was three years older than his colleague, influenced Vermeer's decision to replace the biblical and religious subjects of his early works with interiors. De Hooch's sensibility towards the effect which the representation of space has on the psychological mood of a painting may have influenced Vermeer. Other shared features such as their interest in describing textures and the effects of light on materials, are the result of shared sensibilities which they must have mutually reinforced.

Alejandro Vergara, Vermeer and the Dutch Interior, Madrid: Museo Nacional di Madrid, 2003, 211.

expert opinion: Jason Edward Kaufman

Comparisons with Vermeer are inevitable. Clearly they knew each other's work, but the precise nature of their relationship remains conjectural. It was long assumed that de Hooch, who was three years Vermeer's senior, was indebted to his more renowned colleague. But (Peter) Sutton says it was de Hooch who, at least briefly, was the "true innovator, creating a new type of genre painting with unprecedented spatial order and naturalism. Nothing in Vermeer's art suggests he preceded de Hooch in exploring their shared interests."

In fact, Sutton cites paintings by de Hooch as a likely source for signature works by Vermeer, such as the "Woman Holding a Balance" in the National Gallery and "The Love Letter" in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It was de Hooch's illusionistic integration of figures within a cogent space that was a lesson Vermeer seized upon and improved. The National Gallery's Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., organizer of the Vermeer retrospective, says, "The concentration of the action in a corner of a spacious room is a compositional schema borrowed directly from de Hooch."

But whereas Vermeer's figures are brought forward in the composition and are extremely naturalistic, often with considerable sensitivity to their psychological states, de Hooch's figures are stiffer, their postures less natural and the complexity of their emotional lives less vividly examined. Also, whereas Vermeer dealt with expansive ideas by making allegorical allusions to the Last Judgment, vanitas, faith and other themes, de Hooch preferred less grave subjects, focusing on home and hearth. Sutton adds the interesting proposition that the woman and child who appear in so many of de Hooch's works are likely the artist's own wife and son, and the familiar rooms probably those of his own house.

The historian Simon Schama has noted that pictures such as these, which portray tender child-rearing, constitute "the first sustained image of parental love that European art has shown us," and de Hooch was the theme's greatest exemplar.

A wonderful device of his was the open door or window that reveals a deep space beyond. De Hooch loves to take the eye down corridors and through doors, often proceeding outdoors, perhaps across a canal to another building with even more windows. Proust, in "Swann's Way," refers to the device as a metaphor for emotional journeys, "as in these interiors by Pieter de Hooch which are deepened by the narrow frame of a half-opened door, in the far distance, of a different color, velvety with the radiance of some intervening light."

"A Dutchman's Hearth and Soul" (de Hooch in Hartford), The Washington Post, Feb. 7, 1999.

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