Title: The Bedroom, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Artist: Dutch Master Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684)
CONTEMPORARY OF VERMEER: Pieter de Hooch was not only a contemporary of Johannes Vermeer (1635-1675), but he also resided in the city of Delft at the same time, probably during the decade of the 1650s. Both belonged to the guild of St. Luke and known for their paintings of scenes of domestic life. The nature of their relationship is unknown, although it is possible that De Hooch and Vermeer might have influenced each other in subject and style.
A PASSION FOR PAINTINGS: The Dutch were enthusiastic art lovers and decorated their homes with multiple works of art. For instance, two thirds of the residences in Delft held pictures, including both copies and originals of paintings as well as prints. Amazingly, an estimated 5 to 10 million works of art were created during the 17th century, the period of the Dutch Golden Age, although less than 1 percent exist today!*
IN A PERFECT FRAME: Fortunately,The Bedroom has survived, its owners including members of the British aristocracy, ending with American millionaire Peter A.B. Widener whose estate donated it to the National Gallery of Art in 1942. It is not an imposing painting, the dimensions just over 20 inches high and nearly 24 inches wide, and sometimes can be easily missed by visitors to the museum. However, like the majority of Dutch works, its solid black frame provides a perfect aesthetic setting.
MIRACLE OF MORNING LIGHT: The purity of the morning light gradually penetrates the still darkened room. Already entering from the transom in the back, through the aptly named Dutch doors; leaving a trail of increasing illumination across the marble floor and tile squares. Soon flooding in from the tall windows on our left side, revealing the rest of the room.
Notice, too, the way the child’s hair is backlit by the sun—its rays also transforming part of the tablecloth into a vision of vibrant red.
THE RHYTHM OF EVERYDAY LIVING: However, the wife and mother is more concerned with the ritual of her housekeeping tasks, from carefully arranging the bedclothes to the not pleasant process of emptying the chamberpot. Menial duties but symbols of her responsibility of maintaining the health and comfort of her family. In spite of the gap of some 360 years separating us, can we still identify with the necessity of performing daily chores, even in our own time of automation and robotics?
Yet, will she be able to resist the beckoning presence of her young companion, excited by the start of another day.
THE PAINTING WITHIN A PAINTING: Dutch art of the Golden Age is famed for its realism that appealed to the picture-buying clientele of the Netherlands. For how could a potential customer resist details that often reflected their familiar surroundings: furnishings like matching chairs, a built in bed almost hidden in the corner, a jug and mirrors, and so essential to almost every Dutch household, the prized painting (if a bit off center?).
GOOGLING DE HOOCH: Would you like to see more works of art by Pieter De Hooch? Here are additional resources.
First, if you wish to view an enhanced reproduction of The Bedroom, visit the website of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C. And while you are there, you can enjoy some of De Hooch’s other paintings in the museum collection.
Pieter de Hooch, Woman with a Child in a Pantry, c. 1656-c.1660, Rijksmuseum
Pieter de Hooch, Courtyard of a House in Delft, 1658, National Gallery, London
Pieter de Hooch, A Woman Peeling Apples, c. 1663, Wallace Collection
Pieter de Hooch, Interior with a Woman Weighing Gold, 1659-1662, Gemaldegalerie, Berlin
*From the website, Essential Vermeer
In the public domain, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
The National Gallery of Art does not endorse or approve use of the above image or any of the material on this website. Nor has the National Gallery of Art participated in any projects utilizing the said image.