It was not until the 1650s that Ostade began to move away from rustic caricatures of peasants and tradesmen and towards more respectable respresentations. There are various theories to account for Ostade’s change in viewpoint, but Wayne Franits convincingly argues that the artist’s new approach was the result of a change in the culture at large resulting in the desire for a general code of civility.1 To greatly simplify his thesis: the upper classes wanted to believe that all of society was well-behaved and wished to decorate their houses with paintings that illustrated such behavior rather than with images of drunkeness and riotous living.
The gentle restraint with which Ostade approached the present composition is remarkable. The setting of this Schoolroom Interior is a modestly furnished space, with a few wooden tables and benches set atop a dusty earthen floor, all set within a room with arched ceilings and a large paned glass window. The dwellers in this space emit a sense of comfort and ease: the instructor sits near the window tenderly looks upon a youngster whom he instructs as another eagerly looks on nearby, as the rest of the students are scattered throughout, fully engaged in their own academic task. Among the most beautiful elements of the scene is the way the warm light softly outlines the profile of the child in a hat seated beneath the window in the lower left corner and fully engrossed in a book. An emotional warmth pervades the composition, and the importance of providing lessons to the next generation seems to be poignantly woven into every careful stroke that brings this scene to life.
The boy in red standing in the center of the composition and holding his hat also appears in a drawn figure study by Ostade, with studies of hands in the lower left corner, today in a Dutch private collection (fig. 1).2 An iteration of this composition also appears in an engraving by Ostade, dated generally to 1671-1679 (fig. 2). In this etching, Ostade remains quite faithful to the present work, yet he reduces it to only the seated teacher and three attentive students. The teacher is placed before a wooden wall upon which is tacked a piece of paper, and he leans over the table with a pen in hand as he points to letters in a book held by the young pupil, as two others absorb the lesson being taught.
This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of the artist being compiled by Dr Hiltraud Doll.
1. W. Franits, Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting: Its Style and Thematic Evolution, New Haven and London 2004, pp. 135-139.
2. Charcoal or black chalk, heightened with white, on blue paper, 150 by 83 mm. See B. Schnackenburg, in Literature, reproduced vol. II, plate 84.
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