Pieter De Hooch – The Pantry

Some of the seventeenth century Dutch, especially Vermeer, de Hooch and Terborch, developed a pleasing and distinctive style in portraying the every-day life of plain people, usually in household or tavern interiors. In form as well as in subject, it represents a reaction away from Renaissance classicism. With the Greek gods and goddesses, the nobles in fine array, there disappeared the suave flourishes of line, the big nude muscles, the grandiloquent gestures, the crimson and gold—all the paraphernalia with which seventeenth century Italian painters were trying to keep alive the dying fire of their national genius. But the basic contributions of Florence and Venice, the principles of deep-space design and richly colored texture, were retained and adapted to a new local subject-matter. In some of the Dutch genre school, the interest in amusing incidents and picturesque characters dominates to such an extent that very little artistic form remains (e.g., in Teniers, van Ostade, van Steen). Even de Hooch’s work is very uneven in quality; it has often little to offer but skill in representing outdoor sunlight.

The Pantry is a modest, wellbalanced combination of design and expressive values. Its associations appeal to the basic human interest in home and family. These are not exaggerated, but quietly made real through the simple, characteristic attitudes and dress of mother and child, and the worn, much lived-in walls of the unpretentious interior. Meanwhile, the picture is satisfying the eye more directly by its harmonious, plain and substantial form. There is a basic contrast of rectangles — in the tiles, doors and windows —with the short, irregular curves of the two persons, the barrel-end, the distant pillow and the face in the portrait. These are arranged in a fairly complex design of planes at various angles, and of receding compartments in deep space (Compare the Lippi Madonna. The color-pattern of dark reddish browns and gray-greens is enriched by the softly tinted, deeply realistic textures of wood, stone and cloth. Lights from various sources add soft gradations of shading, and points of climax in the child’s gold hair and cap, and the two distant windows.

This type of form had many imitators. Chardin raised it to even higher levels in some of his genre pieces, such as Back from School, Back from Market and Grace, in the Louvre. But in the nineteenth century it sank to low depths of anecdotal banality.