While not in good condition and a minor work by De Hooch, this panel is interesting for its place in the artist's development. It dates from about 1657–58 and, like The Visit
), represents a transitional phase between De Hooch's tavern scenes of the early 1650s and his domestic interiors and courtyard views of about 1658 onward. The earlier works recall Haarlem-style genre pictures in which figure groups dominate and largely define the space, and strong contrasts of light and shadow enrich a restricted palette (The Met's panel by Pieter Quast, A Company of Merrymakers
is a good example). In De Hooch’s work, by contrast, the illumination is fairly even throughout (the paint has probably darkened with age in the shadows of the arbor), and local colors create a rich effect. The woman's wine-red jacket, set off by the deep green foliage, is echoed by roses to the left. Other color accents include the smoker's orange-red stockings, the woman's blue ribbons, and the patch of blue sky.
The hostess holds a pitcher and a glass of wine. The young man, his left arm jauntily akimbo, holds a clay pipe and responds to the woman's smile. In front of him on the table are an open packet of tobacco and a pot of coals for lighting up. The older man behind him, who appears to be reading a letter, may be serving as a chaperone for the young woman, whose attire is modest and middle-class. The young man must be stopping by briefly, since he has not removed his hat or sword (the latter, and his leather jerkin, or kolder
, suggest that he is a soldier). The chair and cushion have been brought from inside to this cozy corner of a garden behind a private house.
The subject is one of innocent courtship, and in this the work differs from many of De Hooch's amorous scenes of about the same date (such as The Visit
) and earlier, and from the purely domestic pictures that he painted from about 1657 onward. Like Jacob van Loo (1614–1670) and Gerbrand van den Eeckhout in Amsterdam, who in the early 1650s depicted socializing couples on garden terraces. De Hooch in this painting modernizes the tradition of Merry Companies set in gardens in a way that is personal but also consistent with current trends. The ostentatious garden parties painted in the first quarter of the century by David Vinckboons, Willem Buytewech (1591/92–1624), Esaias van de Velde (1587–1630), and Dirck Hals are recalled by the arbor, but in other respects De Hooch has brought the romantic theme of the Garden of Love down to earth in Delft.
[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]