After Pieter

You will know Johannes Vermeer, most likely through that woman with the pearl earring. You may not be as familiar with Pieter de Hooch, his friend.  Vermeer it is said, was influenced by his friend Pieter and went on to achieve greater notoriety.

Vermeer painted Woman Holding a Balance 1662-65. Pieter painted Interior with a Woman weighing Gold Coin 1659-62.

A postcard of Vermeer’s painting, Woman Holding a Balance 1662-65, bought on a visit to the Rijksmuseum, sits unframed in my bathroom. I see it every time I go there, which at the moment seems to be more than I should be making public.  I remember that visit to the Rijksmuseum and seeing the painting for the first time. I keep that feeling close when I look at the postcard. The beauty in this image of the painting never fails to comfort me. Vermeer’s skill as a painter, an observer of life, highlighting balance.

Balance for me is a struggle, a personal battle between light and dark. My yoga teacher of many years reminds me that balance is the thing I need to focus on and not flexibility and resilience which comes naturally.

It is recorded that Pieter’s painting Interior with a Woman weighing Gold Coin, was painted before Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance. No doubt Vermeer was aware of this painting. As can be evidenced from examination of the two paintings, there is a marked similarity. The Vermeer painting is some would say “much better”. I wonder about this. Did Vermeer see Pieter’s painting in his studio and feel that he could make a better painting? Perhaps he did. And, as some would say, “ideas are free”. So, what of it? It is done. Did Vermeer make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear then? I do not know. I like both paintings for different reasons. To have come up with the original composition and idea it would appear was Pieter’s. Vermeer seems to have taken the composition and refined it. Pieter’s painting is, subjectively, much more intimate, more visceral and the focus, whilst depicting “balance” as a concept, is in essence, interior light, darkness, colour.

My introduction to the art world and in fact my one and only art award to date was in 1975. My father, a bricklayer, took me to collect my prize. I remember I was really excited and nervous as we drove to Newry for the prize giving in the Dale Farm office a wet, cold, grey day. My father held my hand and I think I remember him being proud of me, although that is just a feeling. He definitely smiled at me as we got back into the car and I opened what was my first studio, a blue plastic toolbox full of coloured markers, pencils, and round pats of red, blue, yellow, green, black, and white paint. I had won the Suki Orange Colouring Competition aged 8. My father died the following year.

Pieter’s father was also a bricklayer. I wonder about the influence of bricklayers as fathers in my life and Pieter’s life. I wonder about their absence. I feel sadness thinking of Pieter ending his life in an asylum. I suggest to myself that he never really got over that time in 1662 when his friend took his idea and the accolades. The period of his work when he was painting the familiar, Dutch working-class interiors, women with children in the home, seem to have integrity, more so than the commissioned paintings of aristocracy. They are beautiful paintings of light and darkness within the home.

From what I understand Pieter never won an award. Like myself he had two jobs. Primarily his work as artist, was supplemented by working as a servant for a linen master for whom he also painted for. My artwork is held in the collection of the South Eastern Trust. This Health and Social Care Trust is also my employer. My work Sea Diaries I&II (pastel on photographic paper 21×29.7 cm) hangs in Department of Psychiatry. I like to think clients there see beauty and comfort when they observe these works. Sea Diaries I&II were drawn from feelings generated by my daily swims in the sea, feelings of freedom, support, change, depth, darkness, and light.

These foundations are deep. To excavate them and produce a new structure is what I am proposing. Encountering light in new ways. There is an old ruin that I have recently stumbled across not far from where I live. I have lived in this area most of my life and yet until recently, I was not aware of its existence although….