“A Woman Preparing Bread and Butter for a Boy” by Pieter de Hooch (early 1660s)
Tomorrow I begin working full time once again during a particularly stressful tax season. Yesterday, I prepared by going to see the flowers at Descanso Gardens. Today, on the other hand, I went with Martine to the Getty Center, a museum I could see from the front door of my apartment. Nothing could be more peaceful than this painting by Pieter de Hooch entitled “A Woman Preparing Bread and Butter for a Boy.” The view through the open Dutch doors is of a placid yard. What I get from this painting is a feeling of love and peacefulness. De Hooch finds much to say in a small compass, a talent that is central to the great Dutch painters of the Seventeenth Century.
It is very likely that I will be working on Saturdays beginning next week and Sundays as well beginning the week after. Natural beauty, great art and literature—all these will help see me through the next six weeks, and going forward thereafter.
According to Henry David Thoreau, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Going to a museum and looking long at paintings and sculptures helps one understand life better. Understanding helps one to survive tough times. The mobs of young fools with their smart phones and selfie sticks are not likely to understand anything. They were looking but not seeing.
What I saw at the Getty today will result in several more postings in the weeks to come. Every time I go to a great museum, I leave energized and eager to communicate what I have learned.
Pieter de Hooch’s The Mother
In Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, Charles Swann uses his knowledge of art and music to convince himself that the love of his life is Odette de Crécy. First, he discovers a musical phrase by the composer Vinteuil which Odette also loves. Then there is the matter of the paintings. Listening to Vinteuil, his mind wanders to the work of a Dutch painter:
He would begin with the sustained violin tremolos that are heard alone for a few measures, occupying the entire foreground, then all of a sudden they seemed to move away and, as in those paintings by Pieter de Hooch, which assume greater depth because of the narrow frame of a half-open door, away in the distance, in a different color, in the velvet of an interposed light, the little phrase would appear, dancing, pastoral, interpolated, episodic, belonging to another world. It rippled past, simple and immortal, distributing here and there the gifts of its grace, with the same ineffable smile….
From my own past, I know well that one makes use of bogus comparisons to crystallize one’s growing love for a young woman. I remember one whose facial expression kept bringing the Latin word claritas to mind. It turned out that, like Swann, I was deceiving myself with someone whose motivations were anything but clear. But, such is life.
I am fascinated by Proust’s references to art and would like to recommend Eric Karpeles’s excellent book, Paintings in Proust, to anyone venturing into In Search of Lost Time.