A study of Dutch composition

by pamneely on November 22, 2010

For example, look at the painting by Pieter de Hooch, a Dutch painter who lived from 1629 to 1683. This is a charming picture of seventeenth-century Dutch life. De Hooch wanted to convey the peace and domesticity of an ordinary Dutch household; the clothes people wore, the architecture of the house, the utensils that were used and so on. But over and above this was his desire to weld all these ingredients into a picture. And this desire almost, but not quite, took over.

Observe how cunningly he placed his figures. The maidservant and the child are off center. The doorway is off center as well and cuts off, very successfully, in a long rectangle the left hand edge of the picture. Through the door is seen another figure and the window shape on the left is repeated by the open door through the passageway only the other way round to avoid monotony.


On the right of the picture, where the two figures walk towards us, the dark area behind them is a nicely broken geometric series of shapes to contrast with the upright shapes through the doorway and passageway. A long pole of wood, leans inwards to direct the eye back into the picture. The cunningly placed broom that cuts off the lower right-hand corner stops our eye falling out of that corner and brings it back into the picture again (Fig. 38).

The variety of simple, geometric shapes that de Hooch has used are repeated again and again. Sometimes they are larger or smaller than each other, or are reversed in tone or shape. As you can see, one can go on analyzing his paintings for a long time, finding new and more subtle things in which to delight.

Another Dutch painter who spent most of his working life in constructing paintings from a composition standpoint was Vermeer. Vermeer was most careful in his composition, often using only a simple interior with one or two figures as his subject, which he repeated time and time again in different ways.

The triangle can be traced quite easily in the work of both artists. See if you can find them. There are many to choose from. Both de Hooch and Vermeer are well represented in the larger museums.

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