Part 2: Research point: Interiors

Dutch realist genre painters

(All images used in this post are licensed by creative commons).

In the 17th Century genre painting occupied the middle ground between lowly still life painting and highly esteemed history painting but were abundantly produced and collected by the merchant classes as well as the gentry of the time. Dutch genre painting was particularly popular and was diverse in subjects. Dutch interior painting of the time often provided a look at an ordered scene, full of quite contemplation.

Curiosity. Gerade ter Borch the Younger 1660-2

In Curiosity by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1660-1662) the artist offers a view of a sumptuous private dwelling. Everything about the picture is rich and soft from the spectacularly executed dresses of the ladies to the velvet table and chair coverings, to the rich tones of the blue wall colours.  The subject of the painting (a love letter received and being duly responded to) is also a soft emotional subject. the women are quietly pensive about their task. There is little anguish evident, it is a scene of quiet stillness. It is the drapery that first draws you into this painting. These are obviously wealthy women and perhaps this painting could be enjoyed by a group of ladies not able to wear such lavish gowns themselves. I find the addition of the little dog intriguing. Its position with its spine on the diagonal leads your eye to the table and the action of the letter being written. This diagonal is somehow matched by the strong vertical of the corner of the room. this two point perspective has added great depth to the scene. I don’t think the impact would be so great had this been against a flat wall.

Pieter de Hooch
The Courtyard of a House in Delft

In The courtyard of a house in Delft by Hooch (1658) we have  a complex scene encompassing both interior and exterior elements. Although the main scene is of a courtyard, there is a certain interior feel to the space. Perhaps it is the quiet order of the floor tiles against a seemingly unruly wooden structure framed by two arches next to each other that gives the sense of being in a room. The actual interior is quite small and is really only used to draw the viewer’s eye through the arch to what appears to be another courtyard. There is a great sense of space in front of the arches. The figures are all framed by the structures, although depth is given by the linear perspective. The wall of the brick arch provides a very strong vertical thought the painting, (in a very similar position to that in the Borch painting above). maybe this strong vertical divides the domestic servitude (with the lower status wooden structures, broom and bucket) from the more affluent employers residence. There is tension produced by the different postures of the ladies (one facing away, one forwards) as well as by the glance given between the lady and the child. There is a lot of grace about the figures. Like the Borch painting above the courtyard painting is serene even though an activity is clearly happening.

Johannes Vermeer
Girl reading a letter by an open window

My final choice of painting from the Dutch Golden Age of genre painting is the Girl reading a letter by an open window by Vermeer. Unlike the other two paintings, this is a much more intimate view into a domestic interior. The curtain to the right lends a sense of privacy. The girl is engrossed in reading the letter. Surrounding her are objects that no doubt have been placed deliberately by the artist rather than just happen to be there: a cut peach and a fruit bowl jumbled on a rug-draped surface. The fact that the fruit bowl has been upset may be symbolic. The use of a horizontal element such as this table in the foreground, or a repoussoir, is a technique used to frame the object of the painting or to lead your eye into the painting ( In this case the girl is in fact framed on 3 sides.  Although the exterior is only hinted at by the side of the window frame, the open space beyond the window is very evident to anyone looking at the painting. The light streaming in contrasts with the slightly gloomy interior. the open window in which the girls reflection is painted points your gaze towards that outside space. There is a sense of longing in this painting, perhaps the letter is from a loved one, out of reach beyond the confines of the room – and hence the open window.


(all websites accessed 21.4.17)

Interiors through the ages. 

The second part of this research point is dealt with in my physical research book, images of which are shown below.

I also have previous research that I have done for Drawing Skills 1 on the same topic:


All websites accessed (24/4/17)


Part 2: Research point: Interiors

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