Art History 101

Women’s Place Is In The Kitchen: The Story of Dutch Genre Painting

Magda Michalska 11 January 2018 min Read

One of the unquestionable masters of Dutch genre painting was Jan Vermeer. However, today I want to present two less known painters: Peter de Hooch and Jan Steen. Ready for some Dutch interiors?

Genre?

Johannes Vermeer, The Little Street, 1660, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, dutch genre painting
Johannes Vermeer, The Little Street, 1660, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Genre painting was not simply a depiction of ‘everyday life’, but incorporated other elements which conveyed an underlying moral message. They often included other genres too, such as still life, landscape, allegory or portrait.

Pieter de Hooch

Pieter de Hooch, A Woman Peeling Apples, c.1663,London, Wallace Collection, dutch genre
Pieter de Hooch, A Woman Peeling Apples, c.1663, Wallace Collection, London

Born in Rotterdam in 1629, possibly was trained by Dutch landscape painter Nicolaes Berchem. Became especially known for perspectival views which influenced the slightly younger Vermeer. Later in his career, he moved to Amsterdam where he painted fashionable places and portraits.

Pieter de Hooch, A Courtyard in Delft with a Woman and Child London, 1658, National Gallery, dutch genre painting
Pieter de Hooch, A Courtyard in Delft with a Woman and Child London, 1658, National Gallery, London

In this painting painted every single brick in the paved courtyard, which created a believable celebration of a comfortable domestic life and illustrated that a woman’s place was at home. To underline a moral message, or for a greater veracity, he incorporated a late-medieval inscription tablet from a demolished convent in Delft, which said: ‘This is St Jerome’s Vale, if you wish to repair to patience and meekness. For we must first descend if we wish to be raised.’

Pieter de Hooch, Woman Drinking with Two Men, 1658, Paris, Louvre, dutch genre painting
Pieter de Hooch, Woman Drinking with Two Men, 1658, Louvre, Paris

De Hooch often manipulated existing architectural components to create different settings. He was especially famous for his ‘doorkijkjes’ that are views through windows and doorways into other interiors.

Jan Steen

Jan Steen (1625/6-1679), Merry Couple (c.1660), oil on canvas, 65.5 x 80 cm, Leiden, Museum De Lakenhal, dutch genre painting
Jan Steen, Merry Couple, c.1660, Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden

Was born in Leiden in 1625/6 to a local Catholic brewer and probably trained with a landscape painter Jan van Goyen. He’s best known for his witty genre paintings which carry a moral message (many of his paintings depict proverbs), and in which he often included himself. For example, here the rabbit is a symbol of lust while the birdcage symbolises the girl’s virtue, which will soon be lost like a bird escaping from its cage.

Jan Steen, Village School for Boys and Girls, 1670, Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery, dutch genre painting
Jan Steen, Village School for Boys and Girls, 1670, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

On the contrary to what he might seem, Steen was a well-educated and sophisticated painter. It has been suggested that his painting is a deliberate parody of Raphael’s School of Athens, which Steen would have known through prints.

Jan Steen, As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young, c.1665 The Hague, Mauritshuis, dutch genre painting
Jan Steen, As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young, c.1665, Mauritshuis, The Hague

This is a typical ‘disorderly household’ in which Steen illustrates a contemporary proverb about setting an example to your children. Note the oysters on the table (an aphrodisiac) and the emphasis on drink. Steen’s family modeled for this painting: his first wife stood for the ‘loose’ woman on the left, while three of their children are included on the right.

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