The movement itself is known as genre painting and was popular in Europe for a number of centuries. Pieter de Hooch worked in a similar manner to Jan Vermeer, both in terms of style and content. They would display indoor and outdoor scenes within their local communities, capturing people going about their normal lives, such as caring for their friends and family, socialising and completing domestic chores. Perspective was carefully considered, and many of De Hooch's paintings would feature open windows and doors which would allow you to see other rooms in the background - this became one of the signature elements of his work. Technically, these compositions required a strong handling of several different themes, including figurative art, architecture and also drapery. Most of his paintings would have at least a handful of figures and every detail of the room would be considered by the artist.
At that time most artists in Northern Europe would move regularly in order to acquire the best commissions. Pieter de Hooch would do similar, taking in The Hague, Amsterdam, Leiden and Delft. This would bring new influences into his mind, though he generally stayed fairly faithful to the early ideas which he developed in Rotterdam, where he was born. Many of his compositions also feature women going about their domestic chores and therefore helped draw attention to the important role played by this gender within society. Normally, the art world was dominated by male artists discussing themes from their own perspective, and so it was important to widen the focus somewhat. The Dutch Golden Age more generally marked a change within the nation in many aspects of culture, with painters such as de Hooch being just one aspect of that. Another notable member, Vermeer, was born at around the same time as De Hooch, but progressed at a quicker rate. They were known to have actually influenced each other, with many similarities between their respective oeuvres.
The artist would slowly progress over time, increasing the value of his commissions as his reputation grew. He found success in Amsterdam, where richer patrons became available. He was able to continue his work with indoor scenes and avoided reverting to more traditional portraiture, with other artists specialising in that at the time. He was therefore able to balance earning a living whilst still working in the manner that he wanted to. He also had a large family to support and so was careful to avoid diverting from a method that had worked for many years. Pieter de Hooch remains popular today because of how he can introduce us to the lives of Dutch people in the 17th century with a precision and charm that still connects with viewers today. His compositions would capture architecture, clothing and leisure time within the Netherlands at that time, making his work something of a history lesson, whilst also charming us with scenes of fun and friendship.
Table of Contents
- Early Life
- Mature Period
- Later Life
- Artistic Style & Techniques
- Pieter de Hooch's Most Famous Paintings
Pieter de Hooch was born into a working class family in late 1629 and had four siblings. He was born in the Dutch city of Rotterdam and found work here from an early age, but also travelled elsewhere to Delft and Amsterdam as he sought to find his chosen occupation. De Hooch's earliest art studies came in Haarlem, where he was taught by Nicolaes Berchem who specialised in landscape painting. He would take much in a technical sense from this, but chose different artistic genres to focus on within his own career. There were a number of young Dutch painters who were taking on indoor scenes at that time and they would have inspired de Hooch to follow this path instead. By his early twenties the artist would gain employment for a merchant as a painter and slowly he would evolve into a professional artist with full independence. Many of the influences that he had in these early days would shape the style and content that he used throughout, even though he would later travel to a number of other locations in the Netherlands.
The artist moved to Delft in the early 1650s and married soon after. He and Jannetje van der Burch would have seven children together. He would study the work of local artists in the Delft School, some of whom bore similarities with the content that he covered within his own work. He would then later move to Amsterdam, at which point he reached his pinnacle, both in terms of his technical ability but also in the value of commissions that he was now receiving. It was at around the time of his move to Delft that these indoor scenes of local life started to dominate his output. A far greater attention to detail across each composition would now be present, giving his newer paintings a wider scope of interest. He was also able to impress with the full range of his talents now, capturing accurate drapery, architecture, perspective and figurative work all together within the same work. He also started to introduce women's lives into his paintings, which covered parts of society that had been neglected by other male artists in the past.
By around the start of the 1670s, by which time the artist was into his forties, it is generally accepted that the quality of Pieter de Hooch's paintings started to drop off somewhat. It is known that he had family pressures at that time and perhaps this interfered with his work. His colour schemes and use of lighting changed in later life, bringing darker tones to his work which would not prove as popular and perhas reflected the grief that he experienced after the passing of his wife a few years earlier. Thankfully, he had already established a formidable body of work by this stage and any issues in his later life have not detracted from the achievements that he made whilst as the peak of his powers. His stylistic changes that occurred late on may simply have been from a desire to try out new ideas before the end of his career, rather than as a direct consequence of his troubled family life. That said, discussion of his best work will always centre on items from the 1650s and 1660s.
Artistic Style & Techniques
If one was to summarise the artistic style of Pieter de Hooch, we would discuss his concentration on domestic scenes of 17th century Netherlands. He produced some fairly complex arrangements of perspective, in which architectural features would be faithfully reproduced on canvas. Additional to the content would be his use of lighting which at times would be subtle and precise, taking into account every last detail on the items within his paintings. He was not the only Dutch artist to cover scenes such as this, but he was able to capture each location to a level others could not match. He will forever be compared to Vermeer, who was around at the same time, but the two deserve to be judged in their own right. A comparison of the two might conclude that Vermeer was superior in his portraiture, whilst De Hooch impressed more in the subtle touches found around his rooms and in shadowed courtyards. They would learn from each other as their careers developed and ultimately it was a blessing that the two could inspire and influence each other.
Pieter de Hooch's Most Famous Paintings
The highlights from this artist's career focus on domestic scenes of various locations around the Netherlands. Pieter de Hooch would work and visit the likes of Delft, Rotterdam, Amsterdam among others. His relocations helped to draw new influences into his work as well as acquire the interest of new patrons. The Courtyard of a House in Delft, A Dutch Courtyard and Woman giving Money to a Servant-Girl are considered amongst his best, although it is hard to pick specific artworks because of the consistency of his work, particularly in the 1650s and 1660s. One's favourite, therefore, may come down more to personal taste, such as whether you prefer the touches of Dutch architecture, to see women going about their daily lives, or the moments of leisure time. He differs in that regard from other artists, whose most famous paintings are normally fairly easy to identify and discuss, such as seen in the example of fellow Dutch Golden Age painter, Frans Hals, with famous works such as The Laughing Cavalier.
Pieter de Hooch was an important contributor to the Dutch Golden Age. In this period there were major developments within the region's culture, going far beyond just painting, in a similar manner to the European Renaissance. The most obvious name to be related to de Hooch would have to be Vermeer, who worked within a similar artistic manner. There were also a large number of other skilled Dutch painters at around that time who also influenced De Hooch, including the likes of Carel Fabritius, Ludolph de Jongh, Nicolaes Pietersz Berchem, Hendrik Sorgh and Adriaen van Ostade. From each of these he would draw out different technical and compositional ideas and slowly put together his own approach. He also travelled to different parts of the country in search of new commissions and this would have brought him into contact with a number of other artists. The artist was also from a fairly modest background and so perhaps that encouraged him to focus on the lives of ordinary people, with his inclusion of the wealthy tending to be down to the request of patrons rather than a real desire of his own.
There were several important innovations by the artist which would be taken on by the next generation. His clever use of perspective and design allowed more than one room to be incorporated into a scene for the first time, where an open doorway would allow us to see other parts of a house. This opened up all sorts of possibilities for those who were already focusing on domestic scenes, as the traditional backgrounds within these paintings started to become much more complex. His portraits were fairly more straight foward and he would not try to imply too much meaning within the individuals themselves. Additional to the architectural touches, Pieter de Hooch also made use of some clever lighting techniques which ensured that every corner of his paintings would have something to interest us. Essentially, the portrait mastery of Vermeer, with the manner in which de Hooch could depict the rest of the scene provided enough of a legacy by itself for future generations to learn from. The two are therefore regarded as key elements to the development of painting within the Dutch Golden Age.