Richelieu wing – 2nd floor – Holland, second half of the 17th century – Room 38
No one, better than Pieter de Hooch, knew how to render the intimacy of the Dutch houses, their solid and comfortable ease, nor to paint with more naturalness and observant sense the minor incidents of daily life, in the bourgeois mansions of Amsterdam. What an amusing picture is this interior, with distinct groups playing, each on their own, a different scene from the eternal human comedy! The apartment is of rich appearance; only opulent merchants can afford the luxury of marble pillared fireplaces and cordova-lined walls. Besides, the characters, we see, are people of quality; the costume of the mistress of the house indicates better than ease; velvet and satin are beautiful and good frame. Seated in front of the fire that glows in the hearth, the lady plays cards with a character half drowned in the shade, on the other side of a pedestal table. With the left hand, she presents her game to a rider standing beside her and holding a drink in her hand. The latter, with his index finger tense, seems to indicate the card to play. Nothing is curious like that type of elegant Dutchman who gives himself, with his long wig and his sword, the false appearance of a gentleman; but his coat can not give the change; he is obviously commoner: his height is thin without sveltesse, his garment rich without distinction. And while this first group causes play, the other, in the back of the room, speaks of love in the half-yawn of the door. Tenderly inclined towards a robust young blond woman, and taking her hand, the man murmurs soft words which she listens with a delighted air. A little behind these two groups, a young boy, probably a little valet of the sitting lady, stands near a door, a flask in his hands, and shyly drops his eyes, as if embarrassed by what he hears. and what he sees.
All this is charming and well observed, grouped with a perfect art, and the eye curiously follows the various rides that take place in front of him. And what skill in the distribution of color, what science in the right balance of values, tones, characters! These Dutchmen, so long and so unjustly decried, were really masters. Masters of a mediocre inspiration, rebels to all poetry and even to all sentimental expression, but scrupulous note-writers of nature, incomparable to grasp the ridiculous or the vices of a character. They have also remained inimitable in the meticulous and precise art of interior painting, they have no similar to shine the brass, sparkle the jewels, shimmer the satins. Some have been especially busy painting the drinkers and smokers taverns, others have become historiographers of family life, vigils under the lamp, chats by the fireside. Pieter de Hooch has acquired in this last genre a reputation of good quality. He especially has the wonderful gift of playing with light. See the chart shown here. The entire room is illuminated in a remarkable manner by the day that comes from the door, and the drapery placed before the window is as impregnated with the rays it intercepts.
“Pieter de Hooch,” writes Théophile Gautier, “seems to have fixed on the white walls of his interiors the rare rays of sun which shine in Holland. No one has painted the light with more power and illusion, and when one looks at one of his pictures, one is tempted to believe that there falls from some window a real ray. In Pieter de Hooch’s work, the effect is always simple, true and natural. A corridor lit by a side-window, an apartment where a ray penetrates, maids occupied with domestic care, it does not need more to make a masterpiece.”
Pieter de Hooch differs from other Dutch painters in his concern for elegance, or, to put it better, with scrupulous clarity, which he uses even in the most humble and least aristocratic subjects. Whether he is combing a house-yard or a busy housekeeper in the care of his household, everything is orderly, clean, brilliant; he also knows how to find the right expression, the right gesture, and this truth is not the least of his merits.
Card players in an opulent interior was bought in The Hague in 1750 for the sale of the Count of Wassenær of Oopdam by M. Paillet, then resold 680 francs in 1787. It was acquired by the State in 1801 for sale by M. Claude Tolozan, for 1,350 francs, and placed at the Napoleon Museum.
There is little information on the life of this artist; in particular, the date of his birth and that of his death are only approximately known.
Height: 0.67 – Width: 0.77 – Figures: 0.35.