The Poetry and Prose of Life
In Dutch painting of the seventeenth century, the down-to-earth perspective of the burghers and merchants made its entry into art. This also influenced the choice of motifs and the naturalistic way these motifs were depicted. The now mostly middle-class collectors appreciated small-scale pictures that came across as microcosms of their own world. They loved close-up views of everyday objects and the depiction of intimate interiors.
This lively demand encouraged new pictorial genres, such as the still life depicting a simple snack or smoking requisites. The interior view – of barns, churches, workshops, taverns or guardhouses – became a motif in its own right. Paintings reflected the modest lives of country people, the Calvinist faith, or the off-duty side of army life in these troubled times of war.
Beholders could easily identify with these down-to-earth snapshots of everyday life. Or else – to boost their own self-image – they could chuckle at the vices and foibles of the lower orders. Family scenes in domestic settings exuded a cosy atmosphere. Yet the artists always managed to extract poetic moments from prosaic everyday reality.
The simple motifs were matched by a reticent palette of brown, olive and grey tones and the sometimes very thin paint application. But this subdued colour does not imply artlessness. On the contrary, the virtuosity of the artists is reflected in the gradation of the earthen hues no less than in the management of incident daylight, which illuminates some items while putting others literally in the shade. Reflections sparkle jauntily in glasses, on metal jugs, on walls or on floors. Colour accents, few and far between, catch the eye. Against the mostly dark backgrounds, the objects and figures almost literally stand out, coming across as positively haptic.