Project 4 – Research Point: Interiors genre

See also my research and weblog post on ‘Domestic interiors’ as part of my Drawing 1 course unit. (Schaffeld, 02 March 2015)

With the growing wealth in the Netherlands in the late 16th and 17th century, two genres made became quite popular: still life and interiors. The first one with focus on abundance and depiction of precious objects that were collected in some paintings for the first time in a valuable painting that by itself became a precious object for the owner (of the objects and the painting) for hanging in the domestic interiors. With the latter – the interiors  the artist – and much more the owner – were able to present the context of themselves and there family. Therefor it is not surprising that in dutch interiors people played an important role.

I am looking at three artist from that century: Pieter de Hooch, Samuel van Hoogstraten, and Gabriel Metsu with specific elements that are still valid in contemporary visual art.

  • Pieter de Hooch (1629 – 1684)

Citing Rijksmuseum Amsterdam: “Pieter de Hooch worked in Delft for a few years at the same time as Johannes Vermeer. Both artists were fascinated by how to render light and space. Here, De Hooch represented a space by means of two ‘throughviews’ (glimpses through doorways or windows): one into the cellar, the other into the entrance hall. He depicted the daylight with the lightest of paint, namely pure white. He thus created the perfect illusion of an interior space.

De Hooch illusionary depiction of interiors can be well understood in the two following paintings:
– ‘The Bedroom‘, 1658/1660
oil on canvas (51 x 60 cm)
[online image] London: National Gallery. Available from: [accessed 05 July 2016]

Pieter de Hooch (Dutch, 1629 - 1684 ), The Bedroom, 1658/1660, oil on canvas, Widener Collection 1942.9.33

Pieter de Hooch (Dutch, 1629 – 1684 ), The Bedroom, 1658/1660, oil on canvas, Widener Collection 1942.9.33

=> A detailed rendering of light and shadows of an interiors design with people in an urban home showing their daily activities and the life of the woman with her kid doing domestic chores. By this the “dual responsibility of the mother and wife as a nurturer of her child and caretaker of the home, embodies the ideal of Dutch domestic felicity”  (NGA). De Hooch conveyed a great sense of visual depth with complex perspectival constructions. Oblique tiles in the backroom enhances visual space. The painting conveys a warm and intimate atmosphere with the main light from outside (from two sides – left and in front) contrasting with the dark interior.  This painting show a painting on the wall above the door way. A typical feature of dutch interior paintings.

It is possibly that the artist depicted his own family with his wife, Jannetje, and either his son, Peter, born in 1655, or his daughter, Anna, born in 1656.



Pieter de Hooch_Een vrouw met een kind in een kelderkamer_1656_1660_sm

=> Also here Pieter de Hooch represents interior space with throughviews – from one main room into two side rooms – another room to the right and a closet (elder – basement) to the left. A mother gives her kid a can with a cap. The visual depth and space illusion is extended by the open window in the right room. Also here a painting is hanging in the wall. Also in this painting are enhancing oblique tiles in the backroom the visual space.


Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627 – 1678)
– ‘Les Pantoufles (The Slippers)‘, 1654/1662
oil on canvas (130 x 70 cm)
[online image] Paris: Musée du Louvre. Available from:  [accessed 05 July 2016]

Samuel van HOOGSTRATEN_Les-pantoufles_1654_sm

=> A perhaps untypical painting due to the absence of figures of the domestic interior. No insight into what the people are doing. Hoogstraten focused entirely on the illusion of space. A throughview consisting of three rooms and looking through two doors. Interestingly the picture frame itself contributes to the visual depth alongside the two door casings and the two hanging paintings on the back wall. As in the paintings by Pieter de Hooch are adding oblique floor tiles to the enhancement of visual space. The middle rooms (hallway?) is separated from the other two rooms by straight floor tiles and a warm brightness that resonates with the bright table cloth in the back room.

There is also a moralising attention to this painting with some symbolic meaning. The discarded slippers in the middle of the doorway and the neglected broom leaning at the wall and not in a closet could be interpreted as the habitant, most likely the woman, was hasting off to another place, possibly for a render-vous (Le Louvre). There are other cues as the closed book, the candle, the painting, the neglected key int the door.

Overall Hoogstraten experimented intensively with visual cues in quite contemporary approach. Therefor the absence of figures is not a limitation.

The following painting shows a different approach and elaborates on the window-niche illusion.  A ‘trompe d’oeil‘ effect as often use in still life paintings (see my research on Still life genre – click here)

Gabriël Metsu (1629 – 1667)
‘A Woman Seated at a Window’, ca. 1660s
Oil on wood (27.6 x 22.5 cm)
[online image] New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Available from: [accessed 05 July 2016]

Gabriël Metsu_ A Woman seated at a Window_1660_sm

=> A one throughview painting – a nisstuck (niche-piece) with visual cues and symbolic meanings:  apple for Virgin Mary, birdcage and hearth for domestic, grapevine (reference to Philostratus Xenia 1). This niche-view painting with its illusionary space was popularized by Gerrit Dou (1613 – 1675) (Met Museum)


Modern approaches to interior painting:

The following three modern works are showing elements of linear perspective and how the human brain can face contradictions and makes corrections based on learned experiences. As mentioned in my research on linear perspective it is a more contemporary approach – contrasting to the rather traditional  ‘Trompe d’Oeil‘ of giving a realistic illusions of space – nowadays and with the vast availability of photographs and visual images. I think that with the exposure of the human brain it needs at times some more ambiguous elements and another approach to ‘seeing’.

=> Illusion of space and depth through vanishing lines of the floor tiles. With illusionary tricks on the right side: flat painted areas and a merging colour (grey) of the wall. One can tell at the bottom that there are two planes, on the top area this differentiation is done absolute. Quite ambiguous. The hanging paintings. Wood refers to the dutch genre painters on two elements: floor tiles and hanging paintings.

=> Illusion of space with three rooms. Upwards viewpoint with multiple vanishing points. Eye level at the height of the kid looking out of the right room. Using lines (e.g. wall of front and left room). An interesting illusionary feature in this drawing/painting are the two doors. Correctly depicted as two sizes but contradicting as the inner door opens not only into the left room but also into the front room parallel to the door of the front room. Physically not possible – ambiguous, but in this piece not that disturbing. Vuillard took his artistic freedom and ambiguous approach to guide the observer’s eye through the double door handles towards the kid in the right room.

=> Simplification of space illusion through depicting a corner with two open doors. As Vuillard this is a three room scene with the viewer in the middle (?) of the main room in the front. Khedoori followed the formal linear perspective rules. Leaving out floor or ceiling guides (e.g. floor tiles) as dutch genre painters of Jonas Wood did. This work shows that the human brain uses the learned experiences to add missing information. Interesting visual feature is the middle horizontal line that connects all three rooms.


  • Through views are a way to provide great visual depth and space. Mostly one strong light source, often from left. At times two light entrances.
  • Floor tiles, at times oblique and combined, supports a believable visual depth and perspective.
  • A fine rendering of light and shadow for strong illusion of interior space
  • A three room perspective is quite a typical feature not only in dutch genre painting but also in contemporary visual art.
  • The illusion os visual depth and space can be enhanced (Pieter der Hooch) by depiction of an open window, typically in a receding room to open the linear space.
  • Hanging paintings of now show only the wealth of the inhabitants but do have at times also a moralising message.
  • Visual cues (objects) can add to a narrative about ht interior and the intention of the artist
  • Elements of linear perspectives can make the human brain feeling comfortable. Adding some ambiguous elements that can not be understand with the formal approach of linear perspective rules is a modern way of adding a more interesting work that encourages a dialogue of the way of seeing.


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