Sunday, June 22, 2014

Pieter de Hooch, "Interior with Women at a Linen Cupboard," 1663

I was in Amsterdam last sometime in the 1970s -- perhaps forty years ago, when we lived in Germany. I distinctly remember walking down some stairs to see Rembrandt's Night Watch.....and nothing else.  I have no memory of the rest of the museum.  And now I found myself unmoved by that painting, which is the star attraction of the museum.  The rest of that grand gallery, however, filled with Rembrandts, Vermeers, Hals, Steens, is amazing.  It look me an hour to get through this one room.

Fifteen years ago (before checking, I would have said five years ago!), I went to the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, to see the first comprehensive retrospective of the work of this long-neglected Dutch Golden Age artist.  I haven't forgotten it and always find myself gravitating to his images, when I see them.  They are as powerful as the more famous Vermeers.  

Here is one, "Interior with Women at a Linen Cupboard," from 1663, which I found myself staring at in the Rijksmuseum.  

Washed, dried, stacked, folded linens heading to a shelf in the prized cupboard -- perhaps the most valuable object in the house -- standing in the front hall of an Amsterdam row house.  Pieter de Hooch captures prosperity and well-being of the Dutch 17th century perfectly. We look through the house to the back, and across a canal to the next house where, presumably, a similar ritual is taking place.  But all of this would be satisfying, but a bit staid, without the child with the hockey stick in the doorway. Prosperity and practicality, stolid grace and cleanliness cannot and should not keep out play. The next moment, after the painting takes place, could involve, we are led to imagine, the puck flying across the checkered floor, caroming off the walls, maybe even knocking over a table, or even breaking one of the precious window panes. Order needs the balance of disorder.

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