(b. 1627, Dordrecht, d. 1678, Dordrecht)

Letter Board

Oil on canvas, 63 x 79 cm
Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

In Dutch painting there is a tendency towards imitation and rhe dissolution of the boundary between real space and pictorial space. Even Rembrandt painted "window pictures" in which the person portrayed is standing in a door or window whose frame is identical with the frame of the painting. The generation of artists who followed him took a particularly keen interest in trompe-l'oeil techniques. Hoogstralen was a specialist in this field and the work shown here is typical of the genre. Because such trompe-I'oeil effects do not work well in depth, but are most effective on the surface, the artist chose to portray flat objects that could be placed on the picture plane to which relatively flat items could be added.

Here, for example, we see a variety of everyday objects held by two leather straps over a wooden frame. That old chestnut about the spectator who is actually fooled by such painted objects is quite easy to imagine in this case, but we should not forget that such trompe-l'oeil paintings were actually intended as a joke and that they were meant to produce a sense of surprise on discovering that the objects were painted rather than real. Even so, this approach towards reproducing reality in painting does tell us something about Dutch painting in general: it is highly "figurative" in the sense that its content is conveyed entirely through the portrayal of objects.