HOOCH, Pieter de
(b. 1629, Rotterdam, d. 1684, Amsterdam)

Cardplayers in a Sunlit Room

Oil on canvas, 76,2 x 66,1 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor

The painting is signed with the artist's initials and dated lower right on the bench: P.D.H./1658. The picture was painted in Delft where the artist is recorded in 1652, and where he remained until 1661. From these years date the first works in De Hooch's fully mature style. The move from Rotterdam, where he had lived previously, coincided with a change in subject matter and a new approach to composition. Where before the artist had been preoccupied with rustic settings, the paintings in Delft concentrate more on bourgeois society seen in the context of well-ordered and strikingly lit interiors or carefully observed outdoor scenes.

These new developments in De Hooch's oeuvre were most probably inspired by local artists in Delft such as Carel Fabritius, Gerard Houckgeest and Emanuel de Witte, who were principally architectural painters interested in creating new illusionistic effects through the application of perspective. The View of Delft by Fabritius (National Gallery, London) stands as testimony to the form these early experiments took, just as A Lady at the Virginals by Vermeer shows the style brought to an unrivalled degree of perfection. De Hooch played a prominent part in the creation of the Delft school of painting. No earlier works had so successfully applied a cogent perspective system to the naturalistic representation of genre themes in secular spaces.

Several other paintings, also of outstanding quality, date from the same year as Cardplayers in a Sunlit Room including A Girl drinking with Two Soldiers (Paris, Louvre), A Soldier paying a Hostess (Marquess of Bute's collection) and The Courtyard of a House in Delft with a Woman and a Child (London, National Gallery). The mood of these pictures is calm and reflective, the actions of the figures restrained, and the rhythms languorous. There is a concentration on detail, as, for example, in the depiction of the playing cards, the raised glass and the broken pipe on the floor, in the lower right corner, which clearly absorbed the artist and enthrals the viewer. Such details help to create an atmosphere that is almost palpable in its freshness. The mother-of-pearl tone of the picture is enhanced by the use of pale colours against a grey ground, assisted by blending them with white.

The view through from the shadowy interior to the sunlit courtyard in the middle distance allows De Hooch to exploit his skill in the handling of light as it falls over the different surfaces. This is particularly apparent in the rendering of the translucent curtains and the panes of glass, as well as the way in which light helps to define the forms of the figures.

If the overall visual effect of the picture is one of a highly wrought finish, this is to some extent belied by the surprisingly broad handling of paint, particularly in the figures, and the almost matter-of-fact laying in of the squares on the tiled floor. Under-drawing is visible for the layout of the floor, and several compositional changes can be detected: for instance, the man drinking to the left of the group playing cards was originally given a hat. Unlike certain Dutch paintings of this type, De Hooch seems to have made no use of symbolism. The painting hung high on the wall on the right surely does not have a hidden meaning, but the broken pipe and the playing cards are perhaps open to interpretation.

The painting remained in Holland until the early nineteenth century. In 1823 the dealer, C. J. Nieuwenhuys, stated that 'its novelty awakened the attention of collectors both in France and England.' Two years later it is first recorded in England. Finally, it was acquired by Lord Farnborough for George IV in 1827.