A Soldier and his family in an Interior
A Soldier and his family in an Interior

A Soldier and his family in an Interior

Pieter de Hooch
Rotterdam 1629 – 1684 ? Amsterdam

 

A Mother with Two Children and Two Soldiers Playing Cards

 

Oil on canvas, 62 x 78 cm
Signed, bottom right: P. d. hoogh.

 

Provenance
…; dealer Sérafin Martinez, Cádiz;1 sale, José de Salamanca y Mayol, 1st Marquis of
Salamanca and Grandee of Spain (1811-83, Madrid), Paris (C. Pillet et al.), 3 June 1867
sqq., no. 93 (‘Intérieur hollandaise. Deux soldats, dont l’un porte une cuirasse, sont assis et jouent aux cartes; à gauche, une femme debout tient un jeune enfant qui lui sourrit, et
sur le devant, du même côté, est une petite fille ayant près d’elle un chien. Au fond, un
lit à rideaux et quelques ustensils de ménage sur un buffet. Signé en bas, à droite, en
toutes lettres. Galerie de don Sérafin Martinez. Toilet. 60 cent.; larg. 77 cent.’), frcs.

380;2 …; sale, [Victor] Bauchau and [De Sevilla] [section Bauchau], Brussels (J. de
Brauwere), 3 February 1874 sqq., no. 34 (‘Intérieur. Deux hommes boivent et jouent
aux cartes. A gauche, une femme et deux enfants. H. 60 cent. L. 75 cent. Toile’);…;
private collection, Stockholm; 3 dealer P. de Boer, Amsterdam, c. 1980;4 anonymous
sale, London (Sotheby’s), 9 April 1986, no. 63, withdrawn;…; collection Dr. Heinrich
Jellissen (?-1995), Germany; anonymous sale [section Jellissen], London (Sotheby’s), 6
December 1995, no. 47, £ 80,700; the dealer Robert Noortman (1946-2007),
Maastricht/London, at least until 1998; 5 private collection, Belgium

 

Literature
H. Havard, L’Art et les Artistes Hollandais, 4 vols., Paris 1879-81, III (1880), p. 131
C. Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der
hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts, 10 vols.,
Esslingen/Paris 1907-28, I, p. 547, no. 263
P.C. Sutton, Pieter de Hooch, Oxford 1980, p. 77, no. 11bis
M.P. van Maarseveen et al. (eds.), Beelden van een strijd: oorlog en kunst vóór de
Vrede van Munst 1621-1648, exh. cat. Delft (Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof) 1998,
p. 356, no. 144

Description
In a plain interior two soldiers play cards. The scene probably takes place in the morning because the mother appears to be busy dressing her son. The younger man who, one assumes, is the father, and his older colleague pause from their game and gleaming with amusement look at the small chap. Her other son is already dressed and feeds the dog from a cookie. 6 The doorway offers a view into another, barnlike room.

This is an early work by Pieter de Hooch, one of the finest genre painters of the Dutch Golden Age. De Hooch was born in Rotterdam as the son of the mason Hendrick Hendricksz de Hooch and the midwife Anneken Pietersdochter. 7 According to Houbraken he was a pupil of Nicolaes Berchem (1621-22-83) in Haarlem. A second training with Ludolph de Jongh (1616-79) in Rotterdam wins credence in view of De Hooch’s stylistic dependency on his work. De Hooch was first recorded in Delft in 1652when he signed a document with the artist Hendrick van der Burch (1627-1678 or later), whose sister Jannetje he would marry in 1654. De Hooch was first mentioned as a painter in 1653 on which occasion he is also called a ‘servant’ of the wealthy linen merchant Justus de la Grange, who was distantly related to him. Two years later, De la Grange’s inventory lists no less than 11 works by De Hooch, implying that he was the artist’s patron. During these years, De la Grange was dividing his time between his manor Offen near Noordwijk, Leiden, Warmond, The Hague and Delft, and De Hooch will have accompanied him, possibly maintaining or setting up contacts with fellow artists in these places. Prior to this De Hooch may have lived and worked in Delft with Van der Burch, who had already been a member in the guild since 1649 and was allowed to operate a studio and sell paintings. De Hooch only joined the guild himself when he had to, namely in 1655, when his friend and colleague Van der Burch moved to Leiden. De Hooch probably stayed in Delft until Spring 1660 and then settled in Amsterdam.

De Hooch’s beginnings as an artist are shrouded in mist. His earliest preserved painting from c. 1649 is the portrait of a young man in the Rijksmuseum and this may be his only self-portrait.8 It does not reveal signs of inexperience so he must have been painting for some time by then. His earliest dated paintings are from 1658, nearly a decade later.9 A sizable group of paintings can be assigned to the years preceding, but an exact chronology for them is difficult to establish. During this period De Hooch primarily produced kortegaardjes; scenes of soldiers idling away their time drinking, gambling or smoking. Following the dates that Sutton proposed, 1657 appears to represent a dramatic turning point in the artist’s development. It constitutes the moment when he first immersed in rendering interiors according to a sophisticated use of two- point perspective and started to employ an enhanced sense of atmosphere resulting in finely observed light effects. De Hooch’s work now also changed radically in terms of subject matter. These new aspects are apparent in two interior scenes with a mother and child that Sutton dated to this year and an elegant genre scene of the type De Hooch was to practice in his later Delft years and subsequently in Amsterdam.10 Both, motherhood and genteel conversation, would develop into distinct thematic avenues that were to occupy De Hooch for the rest of his productive life.

As a transitional piece, combining the guardroom tradition with the new theme of family life, the present canvas is of crucial importance in understanding the new direction De Hooch was to take and how he set about. Sutton dated it to c. 1655. De Hooch’s first dated paintings of 1658 display a ‘highly rationalized spatial order and a heightened awareness of the effects of aerated light and shade’. These are not yet in evidence in our work and obviously the road to perfection would have taken him a few years.11 The two just-mentioned interior scenes with mothers and their children constitute an earlier, experimental stage when the artist was busy perfecting the rendition of the play of light in more complex spaces. Therefore, Sutton was probably right in placing them a little earlier, around 1657. Since De Hooch’s interest in contrived perspectival arrangements and sensitivity to light are not yet found in our painting it must have been executed still earlier; c. 1655-56.

From around the same period is a peculiar scene of a soldier plucking dead game and a mother with baby in a stable (fig. 1). 12 It is obvious that the concept of maternal care, or more broadly defined as family life, entered De Hooch’s repertoire well before 1658, by which time it had been fully integrated into his thematic vocabulary. One guardroom scene which came to light after the publication of Sutton’s monograph with catalogue raisonné in 1980 was, given its less advanced and less refined execution, probably made a year or so earlier than our painting, so in around 1654, and is of interest because it features the same old soldier (fig. 2). 13 Even the facial expression and position of his hat correspond, suggesting that De Hooch made use of study drawings (fig. 3). Since not one drawing by De Hooch has been preserved the observation affords a valuable new insight into De Hooch’s studio practice.14

Fig. 1, Pieter de Hooch, A Soldier with Dead Birds and Other Figures in a Stable, London, National Gallery


Fig. 2, Pieter de Hooch, Guardroom with Smiling Officer, Fluteplayer and Soldiers, Present whereabouts unknown


Fig. 3, details of fig 2 and the present painting


Another reason to discuss this guardroom scene is a large pentimento in the right, clearly showing a mother nursing her baby (fig. 4). The artist had planned to combine carousing soldiers with a woman and child and thus the theme of motherhood was on De Hooch’s mind by this time and he was seeking to reconcile it with the military subject matter he was accustomed to. De Hooch’s fellow townsman Anthonie Palamedesz (1602-73) frequently included a mother breastfeeding her baby in his guardroom scenes. Two examples are dated 1653 and 1654 respectively and a few others can be dated earlier.15 It is conceivable that De Hooch borrowed the motif from Palamedesz.16 We can only guess why De Hooch overpainted it but a possible explanation is that he was unable to connect the motif in a meaningful way to the group of soldiers. For all their poignant realism, De Hooch’s scenes are not value-free slices of life but (like virtually all early-modern images) thought-through constructions serving as a vehicle for ideas even if the thinking continued during the painting process, resulting in changes to the initial plan.

Fig. 4, detail of fig. 2 with the pentimento showing a woman nursing a baby holding it in her arms with hands folded


To modern eyes De Hooch’s scene may look puzzling. But his contemporaries would have recognized the didactic framework in which his protagonists play a role conveying an easy-to-grasp lesson. The key to unravel it is the boy feeding the dog a biscuit, a familiar motif in Dutch portraiture and genre scenes. As pointed out by Bedaux, the pictorial tradition of a small obedient dog squatting on its hind legs sitting up or performing other tricks is a metaphor of discipline that harks back to a parable in Plutarch’s De liberis educandis, a treatise on child rearing that enjoyed massif popularity from the fifteenth century onwards.17 Plutarch’s theory was adopted from Aristotle who argued that the child’s natural aptitude (nature) requires continuous practice (exercise) for it to flower. Plutarch exemplifies this with a tale about Lycurgus who raised two dogs from the litter differently. One was trained as a hunting dog, the other did not receive any training at all and developed into a glutton. Plutarch’s message was that decent behaviour in an adult can only be achieved through subjecting him as a child to strict discipline by imposing rules which need to be practiced constantly. Bedaux cites numerous examples of emblems, prints and paintings with the motif. One of them, an emblem in the Album Amicorum of Abraham Ortelius (1584), shows two dogs, one standing on its forelegs, and the other sitting up, as symbolising the potential of the Aristotelian concepts of Doctrina (education) and Usus (practice) respectively which are also spelled out on labels. A dog sitting up accompanied by two young girls  doing needlework is featured in Adriaen van de Venne’s frontispiece for Jacob Cats’ Houwelick (fig. 5). Since this was one of the Republic’s most-read books, De Hooch would have known it. It was a guide for young women to good marital conduct and the raising of children also makes up a good deal of the issues discussed. With his effective and easy to memorize verses Cats propagated ‘docility’ as a core principle of honourable behaviour in a citizen. Accompanied with a banderol which reads ‘leer- sucht’, the dog sitting up recurs in the same book in yet another illustration titled Maeghe-wapen (arms of maiden), where it is paired with a lamb as a symbol of innocence (‘een-voudigheyt’) as clarified by another banderol (fig. 6). Given the motif’s wide currency, De Hooch certainly knew it. Interestingly, the specific way De Hooch depicted it – as a child offering a dog a bite of a cookie - is almost exclusively found in portraits, a particularly early example being from Delft, notably Jacob Willemsz Delff’s Portrait of a Two-Year-Old Boy (fig. 7).18 Later examples are known by Bartholomeus van der Helst (c. 1613-70) and in family portraits by Gabriel Metsu (fig. 8), Jacob Ochtervelt (1634-82) and Michiel van Musscher (1645-1705).19 De Hooch used the motif to comment on the laziness and undisciplined behaviour of the soldiers. He admonishes the beholder, however, in comical vein; the small child is more sensible than the grown-up men, who forsake their duty to defend the city and country and instead drink and play cards.

Fig. 5, Adriaen van de Venne, detail of frontispiece of Jacob Cats’ Houwelick


Fig. 6, Adriaen van de Venne, illustration from Jacob Cats, Houwelick


Fig. 7, Jacob Willemsz Delff, Portrait of a Two-Year-Old Boy, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum


Fig. 8, detail from Gabriel Metsu, Portrait of the Family of Jan Jacobsz. Hinlopen (1626-1666) and Leonora Huydecoper (1631-1663), Berlin, Gemäldegalerie (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)


The soldiers are not only involved in a game of cards but also in a drinking game. The younger soldier clasps a so-called pasglas. The name of this tall type of beer glass is derived from the passen (stripes) marked around the glass. The point of the drinking game was that each of the drinking companions would try to drink exactly down to the next line. If the one drinking missed a pas, he had to drink on until the next. Since it is nearly impossible, holding the glass tilted, to hit a measure line exactly, it meant in practice that the one drinking ended up swallowing the entire content of the glass. The motif is a witty and inventive parallel with the gluttonous dog from Plutarch’s tale. One wonders, if De Hooch was indeed aware of the story of Lycurgus and his two dogs.

Notes

1 According to the catalogue of the sale, Marquis of Salamanca, Paris (C. Pillet et al.), 3 June 1867 sqq.,
no. 93.
2 Copy RKD.
3 Fact sheet Noortman.
4 Sutton 1980, p. 77.
5 Lent to Delft 1998 (see literature).
6 Boys also wore a skirt until sometime between the ages of two and eight. This child is most likely a boy because girls would cover their hair with a cap and because the collar is similar to those worn by men. With thanks to Saskia Kuus, The Hague: email correspondence 21 December 2020. For the difference between boys’ and girls’ dress see: S. Kuus, ‘Rokkekinderen in de Nederlanden 1560-1660: een onderzoek naar het verschil in kleding tussen meisjes en jongens in rokken,’ in D. Bakker- Stijkel et al., Kostuum: jaaruitgave van de Nederlandse kostuumvereniging voor mode en streekdracht (1994), pp. 6-13.
7 For a recent biography see J. van der Veen, ‘Pieter de Hooch, contouren van een schilder in Rotterdam, Delft en Amsterdam’, in A. Jansen (ed.), Pieter de Hooch in Delft: uit de schaduw van Vermeer, Delft (Prinsenhof) 2019-2020, pp. 20-47.
8 SK-A-181. The painting was published as attributed to De Hooch and entitled Self-portrait? In Delft 2019-2020, pp. 118-21.
9 Six dated paintings from 1658 have survived: Sutton 1980, p. 81, no. 26 (A Girl Drinking with Two Soldiers, Paris, Louvre); no. 27 (A Soldier Paying a Hostess, Mount Stuart, Bute Collection); no. 28 (Card Players, London, The Royal Collection); pp. 82-83, no. 30 (A Woman with a Baby on her Lap and a Small Child, New York, Aurora Trust); p. 84, no. 33 (Figures Drinking in a Courtyard with an Arbour, United States, private collection); no. 34 (The Courtyard of a House in Delft, with a Woman and Child, London, National Gallery).
10 Sutton 1980, pp. 78-79, no. 17 (Mother and Child with a Serving Woman, present whereabouts unknown); no. 18 (A Woman Preparing Vegetables, with a Child, Paris, Louvre); no. 19 (A Merry Company with Two Men and Two Women, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art).
11 The quote from Sutton 1980, p. 19.
12 Dated by Sutton to 1655-57. Sutton 1980, pp. 77-78, no. 14 (A Soldier with Dead Birds and Other Figures in a Stable, London, National Gallery).
13 Present whereabouts unknown, Guardroom with Smiling Officer, Fluteplayer and Soldiers. Sutton included it in De Hooch’s oeuvre in his addendum to the 1980 catalogue raisonné in P.C. Sutton, Pieter de Hooch, 1629-84, London (Dulwich Picture Gallery)/ Hartford, CT (Wadsworth Atheneum) 1998-98, p. 182.
14 For De Hooch’s use of drawings see also A. Krekeler, ‘Een studie naar de schildertechniek van Pieter
de Hooch’, in Delft 2019-2020, p. 67.
15 Guardroom with a Soldier Blowing the Trumpet, a Mother and Child and Other Figures, signed and dated 1653. Present whereabouts unknown. Illustrated in the catalogue for the sale, Munich (Fleischmann et al.), 19 September 1892 sqq., no. 161. Guardroom with a Soldier Blowing the Trumpet, a Mother and Child and Other Figures, signed and dated 1654. Warsaw, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, inv. 131115. See: D. Juszczak et al., The Stanislaw August collection of paintings at the Royal Lazienki: catalogue, Warsaw 2016, no. 82, pp. 309-12 (ill.). Several works date from the 1640s: Guardroom with a Soldier Cleaning his Musket and a Mother with Child, signed, datable late 1640s. Present whereabouts unknown, formerly dealer Kleykamp, The Hague; photo RKD. Elegant Company with an Officer being dressed by his Servant and a Mother with Child, datable mid 1640s. Formerly dealer H.S. Lanford, London; photo RKD.
16 To be sure, the presence of mothers and children in military encampments in towns were a historic reality. When soldiers encamped, their wives and children would accompany them, but on campaigns they were often left behind and the soldiers were joined by prostitutes and female sutlers. For this see: A. Schmidt, Prosecuting women: a comparative perspective on crime and gender before the Dutch criminal courts, c.1600-1810, Leiden 2020, p. 31.
17 J.B. Bedaux, The reality of symbols: studies in the iconology of Netherlandish art 1400-1800, The Hague 1990, pp. 109-69.
18 Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, SK-A-1907. For a discussion see Ekkart in J.B. Bedaux and R.E.O. Ekkart (eds.), Pride and joy: children's portraits in the Netherlands 1500-1700, Antwerp (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten)/ Haarlem (Frans Hals Museum) 2000-01, pp. 102-03.
19 Bartholomeus van der Helst, Portrait of a Girl, signed and dated 1658. Madrid, Soraya Cartategui Gallery. See: J. van Gent, Bartholomeus van der Helst (ca. 1613 - 1670): een studie naar zijn leven en werk, Zwolle 2011, p. 280, no. 105 (ill.). Gabriel Metsu, Portrait of the Family of Jan Jacobsz. Hinlopen (1626-1666) and Leonora Huydecoper (1631-1663), signed and datable c. 1662. Gemäldegalerie
(Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), Berlin, inv. 792. See: A.E. Waiboer, Gabriel Metsu: life and work: a catalogue raisonné, New Haven 2012, pp. 95-96, 230, no. A-87. Jacob Ochtervelt, Portrait of an Unknown Family, signed and dated 1663. Cambridge (Massachusetts), Fogg Museum, inv. 1922.135 See: S.D. Kuretsky, The paintings of Jacob Ochtervelt (1634-1682), with catalogue raisonné, Montclair 1979,
p. 60, no.  18. Michiel van Musscher, Portrait of a Family, signed and datable 1668-72. Present whereabouts unknown. See: F.W. Robinson, Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667): a study of his place in Dutch genre painting of the Golden Age, New York 1974, pp. 69, 203, (ill.).