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Pieter de Hooch Photo

Pieter de Hooch - Biography and Legacy

Dutch Golden Age Painter

Born: December 20, 1629 - Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Died: after 1684 - Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Movements and Styles:
Dutch Golden Age
Pieter de Hooch Timeline

Biography of Pieter de Hooch

Childhood

Little is known about de Hooch (sometimes spelled Hoogh) since only a handful of documents directly connected to him are known to historians. It is agreed however that he was the eldest of five children and was baptized on, or shortly after, his birth date in the Reformed Church in Rotterdam. His father was a master bricklayer (who may have had a influence on his son's painterly interest building materials such as brick and tile) while his mother, a midwife, passed away when her children were very young. It is also known that de Hooch outlived all four of his siblings.

Education and Early Training

Many of de Hooch's early works depict tavern or barrack scenes of off-duty soldiers enjoying their leisure time, as in <i>Merry Drinkers</i> (1650).

Though the exact dates are not recorded, de Hooch served his apprenticeships under two painters, the "vroedschap" ("wise man") Ludolph de Jongh in Rotterdam, and later, Nicolaes Pietersz Berchem, one of the leading Dutch painters of Italianate landscapes, in Haarlem. While at Haarlem he befriended fellow pupil Jacob Ochtervelt, himself destined to become the leading specialist in aristocratic genre painting. De Hooch showed little or no interest in landscapes, however, with all his early paintings being so-called "koortegardje" pictures: scenes of rowdy soldiers in stables or taverns rendered in shades of dark browns and yellows. He soon graduated to "kamergezichten" ("room-views") featuring middle-class subjects in informal conversation. He appears to have drawn inspiration from Hendrik Sorgh, a fellow Rotterdam painter known for his skill in organizing figures in interiors.

It was commonplace for artists of the day to have a second trade and, in 1650, de Hooch began working as a painter and dienaar (servant or assistant) for the Rotterdam linen merchant and art collector, Justus de la Grange. His work involved accompanying de la Grange on trips to The Hague, Leiden, and Delft. As well as learning the cloth trade, it is believed that De Hooch exchanged many of his early works (at least eleven paintings) for housing and other benefits. In 1652 de Hooch relocated to Delft where he met and married (in 1654) Jannetje van der Burch. Pieter and Jannetje (very probably the sister of the painter Hendrick van der Burch) had seven children.

Mature Period

De Hooch entered the guild of Saint Luke in Delft as an independent painter in 1655 and is recorded as having paid dues in 1656 and 1657. He studied under guild painters Carel Fabritius and Nicolaes Maes, and, given the many similarities in their painting style, there is universal agreement that he crossed paths with Johannes Vermeer (who also lived in the Delft municipality). Like Vermeer, de Hooch produced small works, and, like Vermeer, his painting displays an elegant finish and a tremendous compositional poise. But while it is known that Vermeer worked with a camera obscura, there is no evidence, especially in his most famous Delft works, that de Hooch was interested in using optical devices to perfect his images.

Because of their similarities, the relationship between de Hooch and Vermeer has, down the years, been the source of considerable debate among art historians. It was assumed throughout the nineteenth-century that de Hooch had been influenced by Vermeer, but that view has been reassessed. According to the art historian Johnathan Janson, "Vermeer's early works of the 1650s reveal little interest in the developments that were revolutionizing Dutch genre painting [and it] was not until 1657 that he painted his first known genre interior, A Maid Asleep, in which he made a 'superficial adaption' of the innovative motifs developed in Delft [by de Hooch]". Janson adds, however, that "given the paucity of historical evidence it is not out of the question that Vermeer led the way on some occasions while in others, De Hooch [led the way]. Whatever the case may be, although the art of de Hooch may appear today as wanting in intellectual profundity and philosophical implications (and perhaps ambition) when compared to the art of Vermeer, de Hooch was unquestionably the more prolific and versatile painter of the two".

With his Delft colleagues, de Hooch came to the fore at a pivotal moment in the forming of the new Dutch Republic. Although liberation from Spain was declared in 1581, the Spanish state did not formally recognize Dutch independence until the end of the Eighty Years War in 1648. With religious tensions playing such a significant role in the conflict, art in the newly independent Republic (where Protestantism had replaced Catholicism) became a vital tool for national self-identity. In the period that became known to art history as the Dutch Golden Age, a uniquely indigenous art helped the Republic reinvent itself and to celebrate: its newfound religious freedom; its military might; its scientific skill; and its political independence. Though one can certainly find traces of ideological themes in the works, Golden Age art supported the idea of secular enlightenment and rejected outright extravagant treatments of biblical parables.

By the turn of the sixteenth century, the Dutch Republic had become an important colonial power, with the world's first multinational corporation, the Dutch East India Company, forming as early as 1602. The nation prospered economically through trading relations with Europe, the Baltic States, Asia, and also from its colonial expansion into the Americas and its strong stake in the slave trade. At the same time, a large number of highly educated and highly skilled Protestant workers migrated from the Habsburg territory to the Dutch Republic, helping to further drive economic prosperity. It was the new merchant classes that became the primary consumers of art, and their preference was for still lifes, landscapes, and genre paintings.

De Hooch was by now experimenting with his doorkijkje ("see-through door") technique that extended the narrative space from one room to the next, or often out onto the adjoining street, through a series of open doors and/or windows. The home became a vital symbol of Republican culture and de Hooch's pictorial device showed a way to juxtapose the calmness and order of private life against the chaos of the public world. Indeed, the new Dutch society was placing great value on the home and the family as the source of moral education. As art writer Allen Hirsch explains, "People worked hard and when they returned home, they wanted a reminder of the true fruits of their labor: their home life [...] the sacred was now the domestic". Curator Walter Liedkte added that in de Hooch's paintings, "the interior itself seems to promise comfort and protection, while the light stroking (as if feeling) different surfaces suggests pleasure in the beauty of ordinary things".

De Hooch is best known for his domestic interiors, particularly works showing affection between mothers and their children, as in <i>A Woman with a Baby in Her Lap, and a Small Child</i> (1658).

It was between the years 1655 and 1662 that de Hooch came of age as an artist and his work reached its peak of excellence. Though he would occasionally paint open-air scenes, almost all of his mature paintings were unsentimental interior and courtyard scenes, typically featuring two or three figures engaged in everyday domestic activities. There is, evident in paintings such as The Courtyard of a House in Delft (1658) and A Woman Preparing Bread and Butter for a Boy (c. 1660), a palpable atmosphere of calm and de Hooch perfected the skill of creating spacious and carefree effects through his masterly control of light, color, and compositional balance. Janson argues that de Hooch's mature works "are often so believable that they appear to be faithful records of actual sites" although they were "in significant part, fruit of the painter's imagination and compositional skill". Commenting specifically on de Hooch's preference for urban courtyards, meanwhile, the art historian Wayne Fantis - who credits the artist with the "invention of one of the most popular motifs in genre painting" - noted that courtyards were an "intrinsic feature of Dutch domestic architecture and were either constructed within the middle of a house or at its very back" where they would "provide light to their interiors". Fantis adds that de Hooch's "representations of courtyards, like his interior scenes, were, ultimately, contrived, skillfully combining direct observation of his immediate surroundings with prevalent pictorial conventions".

Late Period and Death

Though there are no official traces of his movements between 1657 and 1667, all indications are that de Hooch and his family settled in Amsterdam in the early 1660s, most likely due to the greater number of wealthy clientele residing there. Notwithstanding a documented visit to Delft in 1663, it is agreed that de Hooch practiced in the Amsterdam area for the rest of his life.

The move to Amsterdam was blighted by personal tragedy with two of his children succumbing to the bubonic plague. Little else is known of de Hooch's time in the city, other than he had regular contact with the painter Emmanuel de Witte and that he and his family lived (and attended church) on the city outskirts at Westerkerk. Most scholars agree that after his wife died in 1667 (aged 38) de Hooch's work lost much of it tenderness and delicacy. Indeed, his later compositions become more monumental in scale and his colors and lighting effects darker, coarser and generally more stylized. This deterioration in quality was quite possibly due to the grief of being widowed and the stress of raising his children on his own. De Hooch's son Pieter, who was also his pupil, died at Amsterdam's mental asylum in 1684 but how and when De Hooch himself died is unclear, though his last known work is dated 1684.

The Legacy of Pieter de Hooch

De Hooch's domestic interiors radiate warmth and calm, and often focus on loving relationships between women and children, as in <i>Woman with Children in an Interior</i> (1658-1660).

Although de Hooch has usually been eclipsed by Vermeer as the greatest Golden Age painter, it was he who did most to popularize genre paintings of domestic interiors and scenes of private family life. De Hooch has been taken to task by some historians for his "less than elegant" handling of the brush and his "below par" technique, but de Hooch's influence is unmistakable in the work of several eminent Northern European painters including Hendrick van der Burch, Ludolf de Jongh, Pieter Janssens Elinga, Esaias Boursse, and even Johannes Vermeer himself; the latter particularly in regard to lighting effects, his use of geometry and perspective, and a focus on domestic familial scenes.

It is perhaps de Hooch's pioneering use of the doorkirkjie - or "see-through-doorway" - that is his most unique legacy. It proved to be one of the most effective ways of achieving pictorial depth within the domestic space and allowed the painter to create more complicated architectural spaces and thus widen the scope for the pictorial narrative. The technique, which was adopted by Maes, De Witte, van Hoogstraten and Vermeer, even allowed for glimpses of city street life to be observed through open doors or windows. Moving beyond the realms of painting, and into the twentieth century, the Italian film director Luchino Visconti was renowned for framing domestic scenes in the "de Hoochian" way.

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Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Tony Todd

"Pieter de Hooch Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Tony Todd
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First published on 05 Dec 2020. Updated and modified regularly
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