You don’t have to be an art enthusiast or to have knowledge of art when you look at Pieter De Hooch’s works, for his art relates to a man and his home, not a foreign subject, not for the feeling of loneliness, not the eeriness, but the feeling of being home. 

Overview

Artists live beyond their times through their art, receiving recognition in the later stages of life and sometimes posthumously. Pieter De Hooch is one such artist from the Dutch Golden Age. Known for the mastery of lighting and the domestic setting exhibited in his paintings, Pieter was one of the most celebrated Delft masters of the 17th century. The Dutch Golden Age, as found in the history of the Netherlands, spanned around 1588 to 1672. It is a period when Dutch art, trade, science and the Dutch Military flourished and eventually laid the foundation for the country for what it is today. 

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Self portrait of Pieter De Hooch_ Ricksmuseum.nl

Pieter De Hooch was a genre artist famous for his paintings set in domestic interior or open-air scenes, often composed of two or three figures with natural light seeping through the always-open windows or doorways among the still interiors. 

Genre painting includes scenes from the everyday lives of ordinary people in work or recreation, depicted in a generally realistic manner. Genre art contrasts with landscape, portraiture, still life, religious themes, historic events, or any traditionally idealised subject matter. (Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.)

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A Dutch courtyard_ nga.gov

The life little known

Pieter De Hooch was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on December 29, 1629, to a master bricklayer and his mother, a midwife. As a young chap, Pieter worked as a dienaar (domestic servant) in a house of a linen merchant and art collector named Justus de la Grange during the 1950s. The term ‘servant’ may imply that De Hooch exchanged paintings for receiving room and board. (Vermeer, n.d.). Until 1654, Pieter lived in Rotterdam, after which he moved to Delft, where he married Jannetge van der Burch, the sister of Hendrick van der Burch, and had seven children. 

Life as an Artist

Pieter entered the painting fraternity (Guild) of St. Luke at Delft in 1655, until when most of his paintings were for paying dues, went unnoticed. Though having practised under Nicolaes Berchem, a landscape painter, no hints of inspiration from his master were to be seen in his work. The journey of Pieter de Hooch as a painter was inspired by his life and the city he lived in.

The Rotterdam period 1652-1656

The initial works of De Hooch were composed of soldiers in their lit barrack rooms, commoners and peasants. During this period, he worked as an attendant under Justus de Grange; Pieter lived by turns at Delft, Leyden and The Hague.

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The Empty Glass_ wga.gu

The Delft period 1657-1661

After his marriage in 1654, Pieter’s paintings depicted domestic settings with the characters involved in their daily chores. It can be assumed De Hooch took inspiration from his family and married life. Pieter took immense interest in picturing the interiors of a house under daylight and shade, showing ordinary details like the floor and the openings. Often the characters in the paintings were mothers and their children, women and men socialising and the daily scenes within a family. De Hooch had a knack for checkered floors, which were a fashion in dutch homes dating as old as AD 9. (julieatbellevivir, 2009)

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The Bedroom_ nga.gov
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A Mother’s Duty_ codart.nl

Another point to be noticed in De Hooch’s painting is the inclusion of pets in his paintings, present as mere household members in the most genuine way. ‘Owning dogs used to be a sign of status in the Netherlands. Upper-class people owned dogs as pets for sporting purposes, and the poorer masses owned mongrels (mutts) for working purposes.’ (Sawbridge, 2020)

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Card players in a Sunlit Room, 1658 _ codart.nl

Comparisons with Vermeer

De Hooch’s work seemingly drew similarities to the results of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, whose paintings dated to the times of De Hooch. Both their works depicted scenes from domestic settings of Dutch households, though De Hooch’s colour scheme w was warmer and softer than Vermeer’s silvery tones. Both the painters showed a preference for hints of daylight falling upon indoor settings. Pieter’s works exhibit warm tones, with more than one figure, all together in a composition. He composes his scenes in a manner where the opened doorways or windows for-look another room or open space. Vermeer’s works were more in a closed setting, having fewer layers in the background. 

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The Love Letter, Johannes Vermeer, 1669_ rijksmuseum.nl
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Two Women Beside a Linen Chest, with a Child, 1663_ Rijksmuseum.nl

The Amsterdam period 1662-1677

Once De Hooch moved to Amsterdam, the quality of his work changed sharply; an assumption that this was due to a personal tragedy with two of his children who succumbed to the bubonic plague. During this period, his work attempted to depict a fashionable society in luxurious settings. The impression of daylight was exaggerated and romanticised as opposed to the nature of depiction in his previous works.

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A Dutch Courtyard, 1658_ nga.gov
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The Council Chamber of the Burgermasters_wikiart.org
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The Greeting, 1675_ nga.gov

Over a decade before his death, or after his wife’s death in 1667, Hooch’s paintings showed little concern for the facial details of the figures, which no longer represented homely middle-class socials. Light 

Recognition after Death

De Hooch’s principle of see-through-doorway resulted as one of the effective ways of achieving pictorial depth. ’De Hooch has been taken to task by some historians for his “less than elegant” brush handling and his “below par” technique.’ (The Art Story, n.d.).  

Along with having the recognition, Pieter De Hooch had his share of imitators, most of them being fellow pupils or those who belonged to the same era. Painters said to have earned their fame in this manner include Cornelis De Man, Issac Koedijk, and some unknown painters, whose works still lie in museums across Europe. An exhibition, Pieter de Hooch in Delft: From the Shadow of Vermeer, took place in Museum Prinsenhof between Oct 2019 and Feb 2020. The show was the first display of the artist’s work in the Netherlands, De Hooch’s own country. 

Woman and child in a courtyard_ nga.gov

De Hooch had a remarkable admiration for mothers with their children, capturing moments between them, be it by tending to the toddler or helping with the wash, a moment in the daytime which speaks much precisely without unspoken words.

Pieter De Hooch’s work is about the very moment one lives in the present. Throughout the shifts in his painting themes, one to remain constant is the depiction of natural light. His works are hugely set indoors, with the characters involved in an intimate dialogue.

References:

  • Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Han van Meegeren | Dutch painter. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Han-van-Meegeren
  • The Art Story. (n.d.). Pieter de Hooch Paintings, Bio, Ideas. [online] Available at: https://www.theartstory.org/artist/de-hooch-pieter/
  • julieatbellevivir (2009). Checkered Floor: A Timeless Classic |. [online] Belle Vivir. Available at: https://bellevivir.com/2009/03/checkered-floor.html 
  • museum, F. the and April 2018, 19 (n.d.). Pieter de Hooch in Delft: From the Shadow of Vermeer. [online] CODART. Available at: https://www.codart.nl/guide/agenda/pieter-de-hooch-in-delft-from-the-shadow-of-vermeer/ 

Books

  • Hofstede de Groot, C., Smith, J., Hawke, E.G. (Edward G. and Robarts – University of Toronto (1908). A catalogue raisonné of the works of the most eminent Dutch painters of the seventeenth century based on the work of John Smith. Translated and edited by Edward G. Hawke. [online] Internet Archive. London Macmillan. Available at: https://archive.org/details/catalogueraisonn01hofsuoft/page/471/mode/1up   

video

  • www.youtube.com. (2021). The BEDROOM & the PROFUNDITY of Pieter De Hooch: Feat. Some Aristotle, Arendt, Jung, Seneca, & Bible. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yq6mqwmktjA 

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