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 (1632-1675), 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 1670 and 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 grand fireplace on the right of the picture is found in many works from this date; in each of these, a richly attired woman accompanied by a maid or another female figure is engaged in simple domestic pleasures or tasks.
The motif of the pet parrot and its cage was a device which De Hooch seems to have increasingly employed from around 1673 onwards. Although kept simply as exotic pets, parrots did carry certain symbolic meanings in Dutch paintings. Sometimes 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 and dogs.
The charm and extraordinary quality of this painting have long been recognized, for it graced some of the most famous collections of the early 19th and 20th centuries. At the beginning of the 19th century the painting was in France, appearing in the great Constantin and Pérignon auctions. It was exhibited by Sedelmeyer in 1905 before leaving Europe for a number of years, subsequently being included in the major sale of Baron and Baroness Cassel van Doorn's collection at the Galerie Charpentier in Paris in March 1954; and it has now returned to the Galerie Charpentier after more than 50 years, being presented in the sale of Pierre Bergé From One Home to Another. The masterful treatment of fabrics and the taste for aristocratic detail of these kind of pictures found an echo in the eyes of Yves Saint Laurent, who wanted to 'weave a bond between painting and clothes'. (as discussed in the 2009-sale catalogue; see Yves Saint Laurent, February 2004, in Dialogue avec l'art, exhibition, Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent Foundation).
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