Newcastle- upon-Tyne, The Hatton Gallery, King's College, Pictures from Collections in Northumberland, 8 May - 15 June 1951, no. 23;
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Dutch Pictures 1450-1750, 2 July 1952 - 14 September 3, no. 390.
This work was painted around 1668-72, some seven or eight years after de Hooch moved from Delft to Amsterdam in 1660-61. It is without doubt one of his most elegant and engaging surviving works from this period. As in his earlier years in Delft, the most common subjects of de Hooch's work at this date continued to be domestic interiors such as this. In contrast with his earlier work, however, these interiors are increasingly grand and the figures within them increasingly modish and expensively attired, no doubt reflecting de Hooch's wealthier and more cosmopolitan clientele in Amsterdam. Here, the mistress of the house, with her elaborate coiffure and expensive fur-lined satin coat, is shown coaxing a parrot from its cage with fruit rind from a glass held by her daughter and watched by her child and a young man seated drinking at a table richly laden with oranges and cheeses. The gently understated poetry of this quiet domestic moment is, as always, underpinned by de Hooch's unrivalled exploration of the effects of space and light and its play upon the texture of different surfaces.
De Hooch's pioneering interest in these effects had its origin in his work in Delft in the 1650s, where he knew and influenced Johannes Vermeer, and over a decade later in Amsterdam pictures such as this show that he was more than capable of painting works that rival those of his most famous years. This canvas forms part of a coherent group of works dating from around 1670 or shortly thereafter, in which de Hooch concentrated upon the interplay of small groups of two or three figures. The compositional design of light slanting in from a window on the left towards a large fireplace on the right of the picture is, for example, found in three other very comparable works from this date; the Interior with Two Women Teaching a Child to Walk in the Museum der Bildenden Kunst in Leipzig; the Woman Handing a Coin to a Servant, formerly in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and sold New York, Sotheby's, 9 June 2009 (see fig. 1); and a Woman and Child with a Servant in a private collection.1 In each of these, a richly attired woman and her child are accompanied by a maid or another female figure and are engaged in simple domestic pleasures or tasks. All four works probably predate another picture on a very similar theme formerly in the Schloss collection which is signed and dated 1673.2 This last also includes the motif of the pet parrot and its cage, a device which de Hooch seems to have increasingly employed from around 1673 onwards. Other examples of its use can be found, for example, in the Woman with a Serving Girl and a Fish in the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam, and Two Women and Children Preparing for an Outing in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.3 The theme of the parrot being fed from a wine glass itself recurs in another Interior with Two Lovers now in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, which probably dates from around 1675-77.4 Although kept simply as exotic pets, parrots did carry certain symbolic meanings in Dutch paintings. In works such as that in Cologne, the bird that escapes its cage was a traditional symbol of lost virginity, but in works such as this it was probably intended more as a symbol of leersucht or educability, particularly when introduced in the presence of children.
The charm and extraordinary quality of this painting have long been recognized, for it graced some of the most famous collections of the 19th and 20th centuries. These included that of the Charles Ferdinand, Duc de Berri (1778-1820), the assassinated younger son of the future Charles X of France, a noted collector and patron of contemporary art. After the dispersal of his collections, the de Hooch was brought to London where by 1857 it was acquired from the dealer Chaplin by Thomas Baring (1799-1873), one of the outstanding connoisseurs of Old Master paintings of his time, whose unrivalled collection of Dutch pictures also included Michiel van Muscher's Willem van der Velde in His Studio and Karel Dujardin's Manège. At his death, Baring's collection passed by descent to his nephew Thomas, 2nd Baron and 1st Earl of Northbrook (1826-1904) and the de Hooch remained in the famous Northbrook collections until the 1930s.
1. For which see, for example, P. Sutton, Pieter de Hooch, Oxford 1980, pp. 102-103, nos. 87-89, plates 90-92.
2. Sutton, op. cit., p. 106, no. 102, plate 105.
3. ibid, nos. 101 and 104,plates 104 and 107 respectively.
4. Exhibited, London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, and Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, Pieter de Hooch 1629-1684, 1998-1999, no. 40.
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