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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Pieter de Hooch/The Bedroom/1658/1660,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed June 24, 2024).

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Pieter de Hooch excelled in the sensitive depiction of people going about their daily lives, be it inside their houses or in the sheltered environment of an urban courtyard. His masterly control of light, color, and complex perspectival construction can be compared to the work of Johannes Vermeer, his contemporary and colleague in Delft.

Through his careful arrangement of the interior space in The Bedroom and his treatment of light, De Hooch infused this everyday scene with an extraordinary intimacy and warmth. Two light sources—the double windows on the left plus the open Dutch door and transom at the front of the house—illuminate the child who opens the door to the inner room. The doorway is flanked by rows of glazed Dutch tiles depicting popular children’s games. Based on the dress, the youngster could be either a girl or a boy. All small children wore skirts, regardless of gender, and the age at which a boy would change to wearing breeches was rather fluid. It is possible that De Hooch depicted his own family: his wife, Jannetje, and either his son, Peter, born in 1655, or his daughter, Anna, born in 1656.

The painting’s traditional title of The Bedroom is somewhat misleading, for the box bed against the wall was part of a large multifunctional room. The mother, busy tending to the chamber pot and airing out the linens, prepares the room for its daytime uses. The harmonious character of De Hooch’s painting and its emphasis on the mother’s dual responsibility as nurturer of her child and caretaker of the home, embody the ideal of Dutch domestic felicity.


De Hooch painted this intimate scene of domestic life around 1658 to 1660, during the last years of his Delft period. The painting depicts an everyday occurrence, in which a child opens a door to an inner room, where its mother, busy with her household chores, airs out the bedcovers. The scene, however, is instilled with a sense of intimacy and warmth that transcends the mundane subject matter.

De Hooch achieved this effect through his treatment of light and his sensitive arrangement of the interior space. Light enters the room from two sources: the double windows on the left and the open door and window at the front of the house. As the light streams through the child’s hair, it illuminates the youngster with a palpable, radiant glow. It also enlivens the interior space in the way it plays across a variety of surfaces. De Hooch suggests, for example, the different character of light as it passes through an exterior window, through an interior window, and through both an exterior and interior window. He deftly differentiates between the sheen of reflections off the marble floor and the more spectacular highlights on the orange tile floor. He also captures the nuances of tone in the shadows, which vary because of the multiple light sources.

The extreme naturalism of these optical effects suggests that De Hooch painted this scene, or at least the room, from life. The same room is found in two similar but independent works, A Woman Delousing a Child’s Hair [fig. 1] and Kolf Players [fig. 2], both of which were also painted from 1658 to 1660. The landscape seen through the doorway, however, differs in each example.

Another version of this painting, signed with a monogram, is in the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe. The only difference between the two is that the mirror on the wall between the figures has ornaments on its top and bottom in the Karlsruhe version that do not appear here. In 1929 Valentiner wrote that the Washington version is an autograph replica of the Karlsruhe painting.[1] Sutton, though he believes that the Karlsruhe painting is the better of the two works, does not feel that one can designate either as the original version. His 1980 assessment that the Washington painting is “of the highest quality” was borne out in 1982 when the darkened varnish that had obscured many of the painting’s nuances was removed.[2] X-radiographs [see X-radiography] taken at that time show no significant Pentimenti, although the pattern of light falling on the wall from the window on the left has a more defined rectangular shape than that apparent in the final composition. Little is known about the creation of autograph replicas by seventeenth-century Dutch artists. As yet unanswered is whether such works were painted for commission or for the art market.[3]

Bode sought to identify the woman, who reappears in a number of De Hooch’s paintings, as the artist’s wife, Jannetje van der Burch, and the child as one of their own.[4] Most authors are quite circumspect when it comes to naming the gender of the child, for distinguishing between young boys and girls is notoriously difficult given the similarity of their dress at this time. In any event, De Hooch and his wife did have both a son and a daughter, born in 1655 and 1656 respectively, either of whom could have served as the model.[5] Given that the same child appears in the Polesden Lacey painting with a slightly older boy in the background, the child in this painting may well be a depiction of De Hooch’s daughter, Anna. In the Polesden Lacey painting the child carries a kolf stick, used in a popular game at the time, which she has been playing outdoors with the boy.[6] In the Washington painting the child holds a ball, probably a kolf ball. De Hooch has situated the child in a doorway flanked by rows of Dutch tiles depicting children’s games.

As Broos has emphasized, the traditional title of this painting, The Bedroom, is slightly misleading, for it suggests that Dutch homes had rooms with separate functions.[7] To the contrary, box beds, situated against one wall, frequently were part of a multifunction room. Nevertheless, the activities of the woman, who straightens the bed and tends the chamber pot, were part of the morning ritual that Dutch housewives faced as they prepared the central room of the house for its daytime functions. The Dutch prided themselves on orderliness and cleanliness, virtues that were seen as metaphors of spiritual purity.[8]

The harmonious character of the scene and the emphasis on the mother’s dual responsibilities of child nurturing and caring for the home embody an ideal of Dutch domestic felicity that is nowhere better represented than in the paintings of Pieter de Hooch. These ideals, which had by mid-century been well formulated in the writings of Jacob Cats,[9] are also to be found in many of the moralizing messages in the extensive emblematic literature of the day. While reality may not have lived up to the images evoked by De Hooch and Cats, the Dutch concern for orderliness and cleanliness, as well as their sympathetic manner of child rearing, was often remarked upon by foreign travelers.[10]

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014


Possibly S.J. Stinstra collection, Amsterdam; possibly (sale, S.J. Stinstra, Amsterdam, 1822, no. 86).[1] William Waldegrave, Lord Radstock [1753-1825], Longford Castle, Wiltshire, and Coleshill, Berkshire; (sale, Christie's, 12-13 May 1826, no. 14); George Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd marquess of Stafford and 1st duke of Sutherland [1783-1833], Stafford House, London; by inheritance to his son, George Granville Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 2nd duke of Sutherland [1786-1861], Stafford House; (Emery Rutley, London), in 1846;[2] Morant.[3] Robert Field, London; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 6 June 1856, no. 520). Charles Scarisbrick [d. 1860], Scarisbrick Hall, Lancashire; (his sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 10 May 1861, no. 119); (Francis Nieuwenhuys, London);[4] Adrian John Hope [1811-1863], London; (his estate sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 30 June 1894, no. 32); (Charles J. Wertheimer, London and Paris); (Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris); sold 30 July 1894 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.

Exhibition History

The Hudson-Fulton Celebration, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1909, no. 55.
Great Dutch Paintings from America, Mauritshuis, The Hague; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, 1990-1991, no. 35, color repro., as The Box Bed.
Pieter de Hooch, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, 1998-1999, no. 21, repro.
Johannes Vermeer: The Art of Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1999-2000, not in brochure.
The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer, Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, 2000, no. 23, repro.
Vermeer y el interior holandés, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2003, no. 12, repro.
Loan for display with permanent collection, Gemeente Musea / Stedelijk Museum het Prinsenhof, Delft, 2009.
Vermeer: Il secolo d'oro dell'arte olandese, Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome, 2012-2013, no. 28, repro.
Pieter de Hooch in Delft. From the Shadow of Vermeer, Museum Prinsenhof, Delft, 2019-2020.

Technical Summary

The original support, a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric [1] has been lined with the tacking margins trimmed. Cusping appears along the top, right, and bottom edges but not on the left edge. Paint is applied over a smooth white ground in thin layers followed by thin glazes and scumbles. Lining has flattened the impasted highlights. The paint is in good condition with no abrasion and losses confined to the edges. Discolored varnish was removed when conservation treatment was carried out in 1982.


[1] Average densities of 11.1 threads per centimeter horizontally and 11.6 threads per centimeter vertically were measured by the Thread Count Automation Project of Cornell University and Rice University (see report dated May 2010 in Conservation department files).


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