Friday 20 December 2013

Talent and Genius

Time for a painting, or two. The one above, Courtyard of a House in Delft, is by Pieter de Hooch, who was born on this day in 1629. His life seems to have been pretty unhappy, at least after the death of his young wife in 1667, and he ended his days in a madhouse - but his paintings are typically sweet and charming, depicting happy, or at least peaceful, domestic scenes. The Courtyard is in the National Gallery, where it's always a pleasure to come across it. The eye can wander happily over the details and enjoy the contrasts of light and dark, and it's a pleasingly calm, balanced and relaxing picture. At a glance, it might be mistaken for a Vermeer (he was a close contemporary of De Hooch and they certainly knew each other's work) - until, that is, you look at a Vermeer. The painting below, known as The Little Street, could almost be a front view of the house in the De Hooch - but it could never be by the same hand, being infinitely more subtle, delicate and skilful in execution and bolder in conception. To compare the two is to see the difference between talent and genius clearly illustrated. Or, if you like, prettiness and beauty.


  1. According to the following article Vermeer used a camera obscura to paint his work, which raises interesting questions about the true extent of his talent:

    His paintings are magnificent though, either way. It would be a shame to have to let go of the wonderful mystery of his genius.

  2. I saw the Vermeer in the Reijksmuseum in late October. Like his magical View of Delft, it is a domestic scene that achieves otherworldliness. We are looking at the ordinary and more.

  3. Indeed it is Guy - I have a reproduction of it on the wall and it is one of those pictures that you can simply look at for ever without tiring of it. An indefinable magic - and I wonder, Michael, if it might actually be related to the use of the camera obscura. Might the distancing effect of looking at the scene through an optical device add another layer of mystery - magic - to what's there?