One of Haarlem’s most prolific artists, Adriaen van Ostade painted daily life in rural villages, from bawdy tavern and barn scenes to more dignified portrayals. In this peaceful domestic scene, a mother is cleaning mussels as two of her children and the family dog play nearby. An older sister entertains the baby while the father stands in the doorway watching over the scene. Laundry is drying on a line attached to the chicken coop, vines partially obscure a dovecote, and two beehives are stored on a shelf above the water pump. In contrast to the bricked-in urban courtyards portrayed by Pieter de Hooch (1629–1684), this well-maintained brick home has a hard-packed dirt yard, characteristic of a village dwelling. The painting exudes a sense of harmony and well-being.
Adriaen van Ostade entered the artists’ guild of Haarlem in 1634, probably after studying under Frans Hals (c. 1582/1583–1666). Van Ostade became the guild’s headman in 1647, and that may have been the occasion for which Hals painted the portrait of Van Ostade that is part of the National Gallery of Art collection (NGA 1937.1.70). Jan Steen (1625/1626–1679) and Adriaen’s younger brother Isack van Ostade (1621–1649), whose own scenes of village life can be seen at the National Gallery of Art, both studied with Adriaen. The two Van Ostade brothers paid remarkable attention to the texture of such common surfaces as thatched roofs, crumbling bricks, and cracked window panes.
Situated within the earthen courtyard of a vine-covered cottage is a tender vignette of domestic harmony and tranquility. The mother at the center of the family group busily cleans mussel shells in preparation for the evening meal. While the husband watches from the doorway of the wooden wall at the rear of the courtyard, an older sister cares for her youngest sibling as two other children play with the family dog. No comings or goings, no exceptional confrontations or other unusual circumstances provided motivation for this scene; rather, Adriaen van Ostade seems to be celebrating the peaceful existence of this family tending to daily life.
When writing about Van Ostade in the early eighteenth century, Arnold Houbraken marveled at the lively and spirited nature of the artist’s peasant scenes. To emphasize Van Ostade’s remarkable naturalism and tender view of country life, Houbraken compared his images of rural folk to those found in an early eighteenth-century pastural poem about a country kermis (fair).
Arnold Houbraken, De groote schouburgh der Nederlandtsche konstschilders en schilderessen, 3 vols. (The Hague, 1753; reprint, Amsterdam, 1976), 1:348. The poem by L. Rotgans, Boerekermis (Country Fair), was published in 1708. The identification of the poem was made by Broos in Ben P. J. Broos et al., Great Dutch Paintings from America (The Hague, 1990), 359.
Van Ostade almost certainly composed this work from various studies made from life; it was his practice throughout his career to make drawings of figures that he then used as points of departure for his paintings and etchings.
The drawings have been cataloged by Bernhard Schnackenburg, Adriaen van Ostade, Isack van Ostade: Zeichnungen und Aquarelle: Gesamtdarstellung mit Werkkatalogen, 2 vols. (Hamburg, 1981). For a discussion of Van Ostade’s use of drawings see Peter Schatborn in Douglas Lewis, The Drawings of Andrea Palladio (Washington, DC, 1981), 79–80.
As Robinson has noted in Peter C. Sutton and Jane Iandola Watkins, Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting (Philadelphia, 1984), 289 n. 4, the image was inspired by Psalm 128: “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the side of thine house: thy children like olive plants round thy table.”
Van Ostade painted The Cottage Dooryard near the end of a long and illustrious career during which he created numerous drawings and etchings of rural life as well as paintings (see
The stylistic evolution, in many ways gradual and quite understandable in the broader context of Dutch art, does, nevertheless, raise questions about the changing nature of the artist’s image of country life. If, following Houbraken’s lead, one views Van Ostade’s images of peasants as poetic evocations of rural life that he has “thought up” rather than as descriptive reality, then it is important to try to understand his attitudes toward his subject matter.
Arnold Houbraken, De groote schouburgh der Nederlandtsche konstschilders en schilderessen, 3 vols. (The Hague, 1753; reprint, Amsterdam, 1976), 1:347–348. “Als ook de beeltjes in hunne bekleeding, en allerhande bedryven, zoo natuurlyk boers en geestig, dat het om to verwonderen is; hoc hy ‘t heft weten to bedenken.”
Arnold Houbraken, De groote schouburgh der Nederlandtsche konstschilders en schilderessen, 3 vols. (The Hague, 1753; reprint, Amsterdam, 1976), 1:347. Houbraken writes that Van Ostade left Haarlem for Amsterdam in 1662, but the explicit mention of the French invasion in his sentence makes it clear that he meant to write 1672.
One also wonders whether the exquisite watercolors
Bernhard Schnackenburg, Adriaen van Ostade, Isack van Ostade: Zeichnungen und Aquarelle: Gesamtdarstellung mit Werkkatalogen, 2 vols. (Hamburg, 1981), 1:41, 73 n. 111a, lists more than fifty such watercolors from the period between 1672 and 1684, and suggests that Van Ostade’s technique was influenced by the watercolors of Hendrick Avercamp (1585–1634). Broos in Ben P. J. Broos et al., Great Dutch Paintings from America (The Hague, 1990), 359, has noted that Constantijn Sennepart (1625–1703), the art dealer with whom Van Ostade stayed in Amsterdam after he had fled Haarlem and who purportedly suggested to Van Ostade that he make such watercolors, owned drawings by Avercamp.
Arnold Houbraken, De groote schouburgh der Nederlandtsche konstschilders en schilderessen, 3 vols. (The Hague, 1753; reprint, Amsterdam, 1976), 1:347.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower center: Av. Ostade 1673 (Av in ligature)
Adriaen Swalmius [1689-1747], Schiedam; (sale, Rotterdam, 15 May 1747, no. 2); Jacques Ignace de Roore [1686-1747], Antwerp; (his estate sale, The Hague, 4 September 1747, no. 84); Pieter Bisschop [c. 1690-1758] and Jan Bisschop [1680-1771], Rotterdam; purchased 1771 with the Bisschop collection by Adrian Hope [1709-1781] and his nephew, John Hope [1737-1784], Amsterdam; by inheritance after Adrian Hope's death to John Hope, Amsterdam and The Hague; by inheritance to his sons, Thomas Hope [1769-1831], Adrian Elias Hope [1772-1834], and Henry Philip Hope [1774-1839], Bosbeek House, near Heemstede, and, as of 1794, London, where the collection was in possession John's cousin, Henry Hope [c. 1739-1811]; by inheritance 1811 solely to Henry Philip Hope, Amsterdam and London, but in possession of his brother, Thomas Hope, London; by inheritance 1839 to Thomas' son, Henry Thomas Hope [1808-1862], London; by inheritance to his wife, née Adèle Bichat [d. 1884], London; by inheritance to her grandson, Henry Francis Hope Pelham-Clinton-Hope, 8th duke of Newcastle-under-Lyme [1866-1941], London; sold 1898 to (Asher Wertheimer, London); sold 1899 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; gift 1942 to NGA.
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The support is a moderately coarse-textured fabric, tightly woven in a plain weave. It has been lined with the tacking margins trimmed, but cusping visible in the X-radiograph indicates the dimensions have not been altered. The fabric weave is visible through the thick, smooth white ground.
The paint was applied in thin layers with no appreciable brushmarking or impasto. The vehicular pastes of the figures, architecture, and sky give way to fluid opaque washes in the foreground. Lean granular yellows and transparent green glazes were employed in the foliage. A pentimento is visible in the upper left tree.
The condition of the painting is excellent. Abrasion is slight, and losses are confined to the edges and an area of flaking around the foreground figures at right. In 1975 a double lining was removed and the support was relined. An aged surface coating was removed.
Related IconClass Terms
- household management
- blessings of peace
- the poor
- contrast between urban and rural life
- low life