Important Art by Pieter de Hooch
De Hooch's early paintings, known as "koortegardje" pictures, showed scenes of disorderly soldiers in stables and taverns depicted through shades of dark browns and yellows. The Empty Glass painting shows just such a tavern interior. In the foreground, a seated soldier, who appears drunk (due to his red nose and overly jovial expression and gesture) is handing his empty glass to a barmaid who holds a pitcher of wine. In the dark background of the tavern sit two men playing cards. On the floor lays discarded playing cards and cigarettes.
Although these works bear the hallmarks of Dutch painter Adriaen van Ostade, de Hooch used the genre to finesse his skills in lighting, color, and perspective. Comparisons have also been drawn between his works and the tavern interiors by his contemporaries, Gerard ter Borch, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Ludolf de Jongh, and Pieter Codde, particularly in terms of the palette of browns and yellows, and the painting's chiaroscuro effects.
Shortly after he produced this work, De Hooch moved to Delft, where he abandoned tavern scenes in favor of the popular genre paintings and domestic scenes. His domestic scenes were characterized by quiet and order, and served as models for a fully realized Calvinist family life. What citizens of the newly independent Dutch Republic wanted were not scenes of rambunctious drunkards, but images that foregrounded the importance of the stable family unit, which was seen as foundational to the health and resilience of the Republic.
In this work, the setting is an interior domestic courtyard. A woman and a young girl enter the courtyard hand in hand. The pair look lovingly into one another's eyes suggesting a mother/daughter relationship. To their right, we look through a brick and stone archway onto an open doorway, where another woman, dressed in black and red, stands with her back to the viewer looking out onto the adjoining street. Above the archway, a stone tablet in the wall reads "This is in Saint Jerome's dale, please be patient and meek, for we must first descend, if we wish to be raised. 1614″. On the floor of the courtyard lie a broom and bucket. To the top right, blue sky and fluffy white clouds can be seen.
Around the mid-1650s, de Hooch stopped painting soldiers and peasants, and began to focus instead on domestic scenes featuring the middle classes engaged in quotidian activities. In most of these works, the interaction between the figures is restrained, giving the scenes a sense of stillness, and in the case of mother-child tableaux (of which he painted several), a sense of intimacy. Art historian Simon Schama asserts in fact that de Hooch provided "the first sustained image of parental love that European art has shown us".
These domestic interiors are considered to be de Hooch's greatest works, and were popular subjects for many Delft School painters, and Golden Age Dutch painters generally. Curator Alejandro Vergara suggests that de Hooch's work shows the influence of Nicolaes Maes, "Particularly the dignity of the treatment of domestic subjects, [...] and above all, the geometry of the spaces and the warmth of the light which illuminates them". Vergara adds that de Hooch organizes space "following a strict geometry" and that in his works, "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".
This painting, one of few surviving works from de Hooch's early years in Amsterdam (before the deaths of his wife and two of his children), shows a domestic interior, with a doorkirkjie to the left leading out to the street. To the right are a seated woman dressed in a black jacket and blue skirt, and a young boy standing to her right, wearing red and clutching a hat under his folded hands. The woman has a loaf of bread on her lap, and is carving a piece of butter from a plate on a chair to her left. The boy's folded hands indicate that he is saying grace before receiving his morning meal. We can assume that after eating, he will head to the school visible through the doorkirkjie.
De Hooch and his contemporaries often included simple symbolism in their domestic interiors in order to convey moral lessons regarding education, child-rearing, and the importance of keeping busy. In this painting, for instance, the books and candle in the niche above the doorway symbolize enlightenment through education. The small top lying on the floor in front of the door likely refers to a Dutch proverb that states that a child and a top will both fall idle unless continually "whipped" (a toy spinning top that has to be "spun" by striking it with a stick).
In de Hooch's work, his meticulous rendering of architectural elements like brick and stonework indicate that he learned some aspects of masonry from his bricklayer father. But these elements can also be read for their moral and religious overtones by communicating the importance of maintaining order and simplicity within the private home. The interior space is dark, moreover, and this contrasts with the daylight spilling through the front door. The dark interior connotes, perhaps, the importance of leading a still and deferential life.