November 21, 2019

“Pieter de Hooch, out of the shadow of Vermeer”

in Museum Prinsenhof in Delft

Pieter de Hooch (1629- in or after 1679) ca. 1657. Portrait of a Delft Family. Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna.

By John Dunkelgrün.

‘Everyone’ has heard of Johannes Vermeer and it is common knowledge that he was the most important painter in Delft, a city which during the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age, as a very important center of the arts.

Much less known is his contemporary and fellow Delft painter Pieter de Hoogh and more is the pity. De Hooch is not ‘just’ one of the great Dutch painters of the time, he was an innovator and for the most time a chronicler of ordinary life.

Born in Rotterdam he lived his formative years in Delft, the city of his mother. He married a Delft girl, had his education there and an important part of his career. He started by painting ‘genre’ works, guard soldiers at rest and play. Inspired by his father, a master bricklayer, he developed his own style, life on the inner courtyards of normal, even simple delft houses.

Pieter de Hooch (1629- in or after 1679). ca. 1670. The Jacott-Hoppesack Family. Amsterdam Museum, acquired with support from the Vereniging Rembrandt

He used iconic Delft buildings such as the ‘Oude Kerk’ (Old Church) and parts of the “Hiëronymus Klooster” (the St. Jerome cloister and bits of old walls and buildings he found elsewhere.

This way he made phantasy cityscapes that were still recognizable as Delft scenes. He became a master of perspective, with techniques like using chalked threads radiating from a single nail, that left perspective lines on his canvas. He masterfully crafted little archways from the courtyards and corridors from rooms in which he placed his main personages.

Pieter de Hooch (1629- in or after 1679). ca. 1670-1674. Man Reading a Letter to a Woman. The Kremer Collection – www.thekremercollection.com

Later in his life he moved to Amsterdam, the ‘center of it all’, where he made a decent living for his family of seven (five children), but due to the heavy competition,  life there wasn’t easy for him. 

All in all this rare exhibition of his works from many countries (including works from the British Royal collection) gives a wonderful view of ordinary life in 7th century Holland. Noteworthy are some of his paintings, which he painted twice with slight differences. These are now together for the first time in almost four centuries and not likely to be seen again in anybody’s lifetime.

Pieter de Hooch (1629- in or after 1679). ca. 1663-1665. Figures in a Courtyard behind a House. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, on loan from the City of Amsterdam (bequest A. van der Hoop)

The exhibition also has displays of copies of his work next to that of Vermeer, showing how much they were influenced by one another. There is no proof that they were acquainted, but being brother members of the same guild in a relatively small city makes that almost inevitable.

This delightful exposition is in the Prinsenhof, the last residence of William I of Orange, the direct ancestor of King Willem Alexander. He was murdered there on July 10th, 1584 by an assassin hired by the Spanish crown. Three bullets were fired and he was killed by one. The bullet holes of the other two can still be seen on the stairway.

Museum Prinsenhof, Delft / Until February 16. 2020

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