Two Women Beside a Linen Chest, with a Child
75.5 x 70 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Comparing Pieter de Hooch with Johannes Vermeer seems inevitable. They were contemporaries (De Hooch lived from 1629 to 1684, Vermeer from 1632 to 1675), started their career in the same town (Delft) and both specialized in depicting domestic scenes situated in Dutch interiors.
But while Vermeer’s genre pieces are characterized by a very sensitive, almost mysterious atmosphere, De Hooch presents us the clarity of the perfect household. This is how people in the Dutch Republic liked to see themselves: respectable citizens, living in clean houses that are distinguished, but surely not sumptuous. Everything and everybody in Dutch society had their own, proper place and the domestic interior was a reflection of that, Calvinist-inspired, vision.
This wonderful example, dating from 1663, of De Hooch’s genre pieces also shows his concentration on architectural elements. He used them, together with the tiles, furniture, windows and the postures of the women, to structure the painting and organize its perspective space.
De Hooch’s most effective ‘trick’ to create depth was the typical vista that allows us to catch a glimpse of the house in Dutch Renaissance style, on the other side of the canal in the background. The French writer Marcel Proust, in his famous book In Search of Lost Time, used this extraordinary device to describe the sensation of one of his characters: ‘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.