Research the work of the Dutch realist genre painters and choose two or three paintings that particularly appeal to you. Find out what you can about the artist and their intentions. Look at the devices employed to draw the viewer into the experience of the occupants of the room.
The first artist that I thought of when I hit this research point was Vermeer, then I realised I had that I had recently come into possession of book , Vermeer and the Delft School by Walter Liedtke. Chapter 5, Genre Painting in Delft after 1650 may help me to identify some of other Dutch realist genre painters.
Delft is is a city in the Central West of the Netherlands. located in the province of South Holland, it is situated north of Rotterdam and south of the The Hague. The Delft school is a category of mid-seventeenth golden age painting named after the city of Delft which it used as its base, the school is best known for its genre paintings.
Genre paintings are visual documents recording scenes and events in every day life, These works contain scenes of markets, streets, taverns and interiors. Probably the most well known Dutch realistic genre painters is Johannes Vermeer who painted almost all his paintings in two smallish rooms at his home in Delft. Due to the incredible detail in Vermeer’s paintings and the perspective of the rooms and the proportions of the objects depicted in the paintings some art historians and artists including David Hockney, who wrote the book ‘secret Knowledge have argued that the artist had to have used optics like a camera obscura to complete his paintings.
If Vermeer was the first genre painter I thought of then the painting above was definitely going to be the first genre painting that came into my head. Who knows what the artists intention was here when he painted ‘the Music Lesson’ (Vermeer and the Deft School, pg160). Maybe this every day scene tells a story of how the wealthy spend their time in Delft, the rich rug, the marble floor and the harpsichord tell us the owner of the house (if we didn’t know it was Vermeer) wasn’t poor; or maybe it tells a different story a story of a music student in love with her teacher or vice versa, we think she’s concentrating on the keys while the reflection in the mirror tells a different story.
There are several devices that Vermeer uses to draw us into the experience of the occupants of the room here and the mirror is just one of them. If the detail of the room doesn’t suck you in straight away, you start to notice things like the way the characters are stood at one side of the harpsichord as though they are trying to escape the sun’s glare through the window. One device that he uses, maybe not to suck you into the occupants experience but to definitely suck you into that room is perspective and how he uses the proportions of the table, jug and other items to set up a perfect linear perspective with a foreground, middle and background. The proportions at which he has painted the table and jug allow them to be seen as though they are in the foreground.
As you look at the painting, you can’t help but let your eyes follow the floor and walls along the left of the room and he has achieved this by giving you a clear path to walk along by shifting the furniture and the occupants to the right hand side of the room and then shifted your gaze towards the windows by pointing the chair and the jug towards them.
Several of his paintings such as ‘Young Woman with a wineglass’ (page 159) employ the gaze of the sitter looking in the direction of the viewer to pull you into the experience of the viewer in the room. And for me, that particular painting says ‘look at me, I’m having my first glass of wine, aren’t I naughty’, but would the gaze of the young woman be enough. This ‘comparatively conventional composition…with its emphasis upon perspective allowed him to place figures and objects at a certain distance from the viewer and thus to describe them more summarily as components in a visual field’
Born in Rotterdam, Peter de Hooch was a contemporary of Johannes Vermeer at the Delft Guild of St. Luke with their paintings sharing similar themes and styles. However, before switching his focus to domestic scenes his earlier paintings mostly composed of scenes of soldiers and peasants in stables and taverns. As well as being accurate records of everyday life at the time his paintings also functioning as well-ordered morality tales.
In the painting ‘Card Players in a Sunlit Room’ de Hooch uses the same conventional composition as can be seen in Vermeer’s ‘Young Woman with a Wineglass’ where there is a background, the woman walking towards the door and everything outside, a middle-ground, the card players and everything from them to the door and a foreground, the space between the viewer and the card players of which the viewer too becomes a part of. You get a sense that he’s keeping the viewer at bay, not letting you know exactly what the group are up to, what game they are playing or what cards they are holding while keeping but feeding you just enough information to keep you enthralled.
It has been said, I don’t know who said it, but it was mentioned in Tim’s Vermeer, that Vermeer painted with light and indeed there is a documentary by Joe Krakora titled ‘Vermeer: Master of Light’. Looking at works by both de Hooch and Vermeer it seems they share a similar mastery of light but it was Vermeer’s work in particular that reminded me of the works by two 20th century artists who also took full advantage of the light in their paintings.
Light plays an important part of Edward Hopper’s paintings and when you look at Hopper’s paintings at the side of Vermeer’s the influence is very clear but they both use light in different ways.
Vermeer paints a warm calming light while Hopper paints an uncomfortable glare that shines through mostly bare windows indicating the hardships of lonely city life. His genre paintings are usually of interesting characters posed in simple compositions in usually off-angled almost empty apartments or hotel rooms. As the viewer he has left it as your job to workout the relationship between the occupants of the room.
David Hockney, (born July 9, 1937, Bradford, Yorkshire, England), English painter, draftsman, printmaker, photographer, and stage designer whose works are characterized by economy of technique, a preoccupation with light, and a frank, mundane realism derived from Pop art and photography. – www.britannica.com
Where as Hopper’s interiors mostly seem to be at off-angles, Hockney’s interiors, and exteriors for that matter are full on with the edge of the canvas level with the horizontal walls, like as in George Lawson and Wayne Sleep above. However, unlike Vermeer and Hopper’s painting we don’t seem to be invited in to Hockney’s paintings only allowed to view from the sidelines at exceptionally still figures.
What is clear though is that Vermeer, Hopper and Hockney’s paintings above when laid next to each other look like distant cousins, showing similarities particularly the way they have used light and used it to illuminate faces. Although the type of light they use is different it plays a key part in the atmosphere as well as the overall meaning of the painting and with Hockney’s the light highlights the relationship between the occupants of the room. Although the two figures are obviously posing in inanimate poses there is still a lot going on the form of light and colour as the sunlight shines through both the bedroom and living room windows and illuminates the walls in an array of colours.