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Pieter de Hooch (Rotterdam 1629-Amsterdam 1684)

Cardplayers in a sunlit Room Signed and dated 1658

Oil on canvas | 77.3 x 67.3 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 405951

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This is a precious record of a moment when De Hooch and Vermeer were both working in Delft evolving a distinctive style; the evidence of dated works (like this one) suggesting that De Hooch was making the running. De Hooch's reputation was certainly enhanced by the 'discovery' of Vermeer in the 1860s, but he was already a sought-after name in the time of George IV: the two paintings by him in the 1819 Carlton House inventory were both correctly attributed and impressively valued (CW 84, 405331 at 400 guineas; this one at 700 guineas).

De Hooch here treats an interior like a landscape, exploring the fall of light (the tiled floor treated almost like an evening sky) and the way in which textures are revealed and concealed by it. As often in landscape, figures are relatively secondary: all are small in scale; two turn their back on us, as if we have interrupted their game. The way in which the man in black (with his chair) reads as little more than a complex obstacle past which we enjoy the fall of light, is a typical of this re-balancing of priorities away from figures towards interior space.

This is presumably an inn where figures smoke, play cards and drink, awaiting a re-fill from the maid clutching a jug of wine and crossing the courtyard. The two men to the right are perhaps intended as a cheating partnership: the standing one looking at the woman's hand; the other casting him a smug grin as he plays an ace.

The landscape on the wall provides a useful confirmation of written reports that paintings hung in modest interiors in Holland at this date.

Inscribed on bench lower left: 'P. D. H. 1658'