Pieter de Hooch worked in the small and relatively quiet city of Delft from 1652 to about 1660. Like other Delft artists, most notably Carel Fabritius and Johannes Vermeer, De Hooch painted everyday scenes that are remarkable for their clarity of perspective and harmony of light. He gave order to his compositions by emphasizing the geometry of architectural elements. The positioning of doors, windows and their shutters, floor tiles, and bricks was all carefully calculated and painted.
Women going about their daily chores or attending to visitors, such as the soldiers seen here sitting around a table smoking and drinking, are a frequent theme in De Hooch’s work. The man wearing a breastplate is setting down the pitcher he has used to refill the "pass-glass" held by the woman. The pass-glass was used in drinking games. Each participant had to drink down to a circular line on the glass; failing to reach the exact level, the reveler would be required to drink down to the next ring. Only when this was done successfully would the glass be passed on to the next participant. The little girl carries a brazier of hot coals so that the two soldiers can light their long-stemmed, white clay pipes. Despite its apparent realism, and the presence of the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk in the background, the scene probably does not depict a specific courtyard.
In a walled courtyard behind a brick house, two soldiers seated at a table enjoy a moment’s banter with a serving woman. While one of the soldiers puffs smoke from his clay pipe, the other, holding a Raeren earthenware jug, laughingly watches the woman drink beer from her pass-glass. The pass-glass was used in drinking games. Each participant had to drink down to a circular line on the glass; failing to reach the exact level, he or she would be required to drink to the next ring down. Only when this was done successfully would the glass be passed on to the next participant.
For information on the “pass-glass,” see the Rijksmuseum online catalog.
The painting is one of the most accomplished of De Hooch’s “Delft Style” works from about 1660. The ordered, harmonious arrangement of architectural and figural elements creates a quiet and peaceful mood. The soft light that pervades the scene and the careful way in which De Hooch indicates the bricks and mortar of the buildings and courtyard enhance the painting’s naturalistic qualities. Its measured harmony also comes from the artist’s sensitivity to color and the way in which he intersperses accents of red, blue, and white throughout the scene. Particularly effective is the satiny sheen of the young girl’s blue dress, which he has suggested through the use of yellow highlights.
De Hooch achieved this sense of order by carefully manipulating the perspective and the placement of compositional elements. He strengthened the figural group by adjusting the woman’s position and bringing her closer to the table, which was revealed by
A photographic or digital image analysis method which captures the absorption/emission characteristics of reflected infrared radiation. The absorption of infrared wavelengths varies for different pigments, so the resultant image can help distinguish the pigments that have been used in the painting or underdrawing.
Infrared reflectography was performed using a Mitsubishi M600 PtSi Focal plane array camera.
The brick wall behind the figures is presumably a section of the old city wall of Delft.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner, Pieter de Hooch: The Master’s Paintings, trans. Alice M. Sharkey and E. Schwandt (London and New York, 1930), 272.
John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters, 9 vols. (London, 1829–1842), 9:573, no. 30, incorrectly identifies it as the tower of the cathedral in Utrecht. The tower here varies a bit from the appearance of that of the Nieuwe Kerk, but it must depict that structure.
De Hooch’s earliest genre scenes frequently depict soldiers sitting around a table smoking and drinking, attended to by a serving woman, a subject he has here moved outdoors into the courtyard of a middle-class home.
See Peter Sutton, Pieter de Hooch: Complete Edition with a Catalogue Raisonné (Oxford, 1980), nos. 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13.
These scenes probably reflect the influence of the Rotterdam artist Ludolph de Jongh (1616–1679), whom De Hooch must have known before moving to Delft and joining the guild in 1655.
A replica of this painting is in the Mauritshuis, The Hague.
Peter Sutton, Pieter de Hooch: Complete Edition with a Catalogue Raisonné (Oxford, 1980), no. 35b.
A photographic or digital image analysis method that visually records an object's ability to absorb or transmit x-rays. The differential absorption pattern is useful for examining an object's internal structure as well as for comparing the variation in pigment types.
Marquise of Bute Collection; Peter Sutton, Pieter de Hooch: Complete Edition with a Catalogue Raisonné (Oxford, 1980), no. 27.
Laquy’s drawing was kindly brought to my attention by C. J. de Bruyn Kops, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
Cornelis Sebille Roos [1754-1820], Amsterdam; (his sale, R.W.P. de Vries, Amsterdam, 28 August 1820, no. 51); Isaac van Eyck. (sale, Paris); purchased by a Mr. Mason; purchased by Baron Lionel de Rothschild [1808-1879], Gunnersbury Park, Greater London, by 1842; by inheritance to his son, Nathan Mayer Rothschild, 1st baron Rothschild [1840-1915]; by exchange with or sale to his brother, Baron Alfred Charles de Rothschild [1842-1918], London and Halton House, near Wendover, Buckinghamshire; bequeathed to his illegitimate daughter, Almina Victoria, Countess of Carnarvon [c. 1877-1969, later Mrs. Ian Onslow Dennistoun], London; sold 1924 to (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); sold November 1924 to Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 28 December 1934 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.
- Masterworks of Five Centuries, Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, 1939, no. 81a, repro.
- Pieter de Hooch, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, 1998-1999, no. 19, repro., as Two Soldiers and a Woman Drinking in a Courtyard.
- Johannes Vermeer: The Art of Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1999-2000, not in brochure.
- Vermeer and the Delft School, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The National Gallery, London, 2001, no. 33, repro.
- Vermeer: La ragazza alla spinetta e i pittori di Delft, Foro Boario, Modena, 2007, no. 10, repro.
- The New American Garden: the Landscape Architecture of Oehme, Van Sweden & Associates, National Building Museum, Washington, 2015-2016, (travelling exhibition, painting shown only in Washington).
The medium-weight, plain-weave fabric support has been lined with the tacking margins trimmed. A smooth off-white ground was applied somewhat thickly to the support. The ground is coated with a transparent brown wash that becomes thinner in the area corresponding to the sky. With the brown wash used as an undertone, De Hooch applied paint in thin, transparent layers. The impasted highlights are constructed of small dabs of color placed in close proximity, often overlapping. This technique produces a flickering effect, particularly in the flesh tones.
Careful visual examination and infrared reflectography at 1.2 to 2.5 microns reveal a number of artist’s changes. The little girl appears to have been raised slightly and moved about one inch to the right of her original position. The head of the standing woman may have been more upright as she raised her glass somewhat higher. An earlier position of her foot was painted out. The fence originally extended between the two seated men. The positions of the arm and the beer stein of the central seated figure were changed. A pronounced pentimento of the stein at the elbow of this man suggests that his arm was originally positioned farther back in space so that the stein covered the view of the elbow. In the background, the courtyard visible through the open door originally contained a second somewhat thinner tree trunk. The arch in the doorway is painted over both tree trunks, so the arch probably came at a late stage in the creative process. Finally the top of the building on the right originally ended lower, so that it did not continue vertically to the top of the picture space.
The paint is in good condition with little loss and minor abrasion, except for the trees in the background and a one-inch band across the top of the sky, which are severely abraded. Other areas of abrasion include the little girl’s face, the woman’s blue apron, and the cloak of the man seated in the foreground. The painting was treated in 2002, at which time the abraded areas were inpainted to bring them into harmony with the rest of the composition. Records indicated that prior to the most recent treatment, the painting was treated in Holland in the 1930s.
 Average densities of 13.9 threads per centimeter horizontally and 14.0 threads per centimeter vertically were measured in the original support by the Thread Count Automation Project of Cornell University and Rice University (see report dated May 2010 in NGA Conservation department files).
 Infrared reflectography was performed using a Mitsubishi M600 PtSi Focal plane array camera.
 The NGA Scientific Research department analyzed the pigments using air-path X-ray Fluorescence spectroscopy (see report dated October 26, 1978, in NGA Conservation department files).
 See note in NGA Conservation department files.
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- soldier off-duty
- mathematical perspective