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The 17th century genre painters

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This heading embraces those who may be called the "Little Dutchmen," because of the small scale of their pictures and their genre subjects. Gerard Dou (1613-1675) is indicative of the class without fully representing it. He was a pupil of Rembrandt, but his work gave little report of this. It was smaller, more delicate in detail, more petty in conception.

He was a man great in little things, one who wasted strength on the minutiae of dress, or table-cloth, or the texture of furniture without grasping the mass or color significance of the whole scene. There was infinite detail about his work, and that gave it popularity; but as art it held, and holds today, little higher place than the work of Metsu (1630-1667), Van Mieris (1635-1681), Netscher (1639-1684), or Schalcken (1643-1706), all of whom produced the interior piece with figures elaborate in accidental effects.

Van Ostade (1610-1685), though dealing with the small canvas, and portraying peasant life with perhaps unnecessary coarseness, was a much stronger painter than the men just mentioned. He was the favorite pupil of Hals and the master of Jan Steen. With little delicacy in choice of subject he had much delicacy in color, taste in arrangement, and skill in handling. His brush was precise but not finical.

By far the best painter among all the "Little Dutchmen" was Terburg (1617?-1681), a painter of interiors, small portraits, conversation pictures, and the like. Though of diminutive scale his work has the largeness of view characteristic of genius, and the skilled technic of a thorough craftsman. Terburg was a travelled man, visiting Italy, where he studied Titian, returning to Holland to study Rembrandt, finally at Madrid studying Velasquez. He was a painter of much culture, and the keynote of his art is refinement. Quiet and dignified he carried taste through all branches of his art.

In subject he was rather elevated, in color subdued with broken tones, in composition simple, in brush-work sure, vivacious, and yet unobtrusive. Selection in his characters was followed by reserve in using them. Detail was not very apparent. A few people with some accessory objects were all that he required to make a picture. Perhaps his best qualities appear in a number of small portraits remarkable for their distinction and aristocratic grace.

Jan Steen (1626?-1679) was almost the opposite of Terburg, a man of sarcastic flings and coarse humor who satirized his own time with little reserve. He developed under Hals and Van Ostade, favoring the latter in his interiors, family scenes, and drunken debauches. He was a master of physiognomy, and depicted it with rare if rather unpleasant truth. If he had little refinement in his themes he certainly handled them as a painter with delicacy.

At his best his many figured groups were exceedingly well composed, his color was of good quality (with a fondness for yellows), and his brush was as limpid and graceful as though painting angels instead of Dutch boors. He was really one of the fine brushmen of Holland, a man greatly admired by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and many an artist since; but not a man of high intellectual pitch as compared with Terburg, for instance.

Pieter de Hooghe (1632?-1681) was a painter of purely pictorial effects, beginning and ending a picture in a scheme of color, atmosphere, clever composition, and above all the play of light-and-shade. He was one of the early masters of full sunlight, painting it falling across a court-yard or streaming through a window with marvellous truth and poetry.

His subjects were commonplace enough. An interior with a figure or two in the middle distance, and a passage-way leading into a lighted background were sufficient for him. These formed a skeleton which he clothed in a half-tone shadow, pierced with warm yellow light, enriched with rare colors, usually garnet reds and deep yellows repeated in the different planes, and surrounded with a subtle pervading atmosphere. As a brushman he was easy but not distinguished, and often his drawing was not correct; but in the placing of color masses and in composing by color and light he was a master of the first rank. Little is known about his life. He probably formed himself on Fabritius or Rembrandt at second-hand, but little trace of the latter is apparent in his work. He seems not to have achieved much fame until late years, and then rather in England than in his own country.

Jan Vermeer of Delft (1632-1675), one of the most charming of all the genre painters, was allied to De Hooghe in his pictorial point of view and interior subjects. Unfortunately there is little left to us of this master, but the few extant examples serve to show him a painter of rare qualities in light, in color, and in atmosphere. He was a remarkable man for his handling of blues, reds, and yellows; and in the tonic relations of a picture he was a master second to no one. Fabritius is supposed to have influenced him.

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