According to the single sentence Houbraken devoted to Pieter de Hooch, the artist “uitmuntend is geweest in ’t schilderen van Kamergezigten, en daar in Gezelschapjes van Heeren en Juffrouwen” (was outstanding in the painting of interiors with companies of gentlemen and ladies).1 De Hooch was born in Rotterdam in 1629. His parents were the master bricklayer Hendrick de Hooch and the midwife Annetge Pieters. Pieter was twenty years old when his father took a second wife, Adriaentje Philipsdr de Wijmer. He grew up on the Vissersdijk, near the Blaak, before the family moved in 1651 into a house on the Lombartstraat that his father had purchased for 1700 guilders. Hendrick had four sons from his first marriage, but as emerges from his will, Pieter was the only one still alive in 1657. In 1661 Hendrick married Christina Langenberg of Middelburg, where the couple settled.
Although Houbraken claims that De Hooch, together with his fellow townsman Jacob Ochtervelt (1634–82), “eenigen tyd by (den beruchten) N. Berchem geleert [heeft]” (studied for a period with the renowned N. Berchem), the accuracy of this statement is often doubted.2 De Hooch’s early work has so little in common with the Italianate landscapes of Haarlem-based Nicolaes Berchem (1621/2–83) that it is hard to imagine he trained with him. A more plausible teacher is Ludolf de Jongh (1616–1679), his fellow townsman and a skillful painter of genre and hunting scenes, who had returned to Rotterdam in 1642 after a seven-year sojourn in France. De Hooch was thirteen at the time. While there is no evidence of such an apprenticeship, De Jongh’s work from the 1640s displays so many similarities with De Hooch’s early interiors of inns and stables populated with farmers and soldiers that at the very least he was De Hooch’s chief source of inspiration.3
De Hooch is first mentioned in Delft in 1652, where the work on which his present fame primarily rests originated. In that year, together with his future brother-in-law, the painter Hendrick van der Burch (1627–after 1666), he signed a document in which both are recorded as “wonende tot Delff” (residing in Delft).4 The two painters witnessed other documents as well. Even though there is no documentary proof, the idea that De Hooch was active in Van der Burch’s workshop in the early 1650s—De Hooch registered in the Delft Guild of Saint Luke only on 20 September 1655—does not seem far-fetched.5
Whether De Hooch had already moved to Delft prior to 1652 is unknown, nor do we know if he lived there consecutively until 1660, the year in which he probably left for Amsterdam. When he married Hendrick’s sister, Jannetge van der Burch, in 1654, he gave his address as the Lombardstraat in Rotterdam, which is where his father had been living since 1651. De Hooch is also recorded in Leiden several times, and that he therefore resided there for a while cannot be excluded.6 This hinges in part on the nature of his affiliation with Joost de la Grange (1623–64), a wealthy Leiden linen merchant.7 In a lawsuit brought before a court in The Hague in May 1653, De Hooch is called De la Grange’s “schilder” (painter) as well as “dienaer” (servant).8 What this employment entailed precisely is not mentioned in the document, but interpreting “dienaer” as “huisknecht,” or house servant, De Hooch must have lived with De la Grange for some time. Extrapolating from what is known about De la Grange, this would have been Leiden and not Delft.9 Given the usual usage of “dienaer” in notarial documents, however, the word should be more likely interpreted as “kantoorknecht” or office assistant, meaning that De Hooch aided De la Grange with his cloth business. This does not imply that De Hooch lodged with his employer per se, but that he did have accommodations in his vicinity.10 Despite the most tenable interpretation of their affiliation, De Hooch is still thought to have painted for the art lover on a contractual basis.11 When in 1655 De Grange settled a debt with pictures, the more than seventy works in his possession with a total value of 1450 guilders, included eleven by De Hooch.12
Possibly in 1660, or at the latest in the spring of 1661, De Hooch moved to Amsterdam, where his brother-in-law Hendrick van der Burch of Leiden had settled a year earlier. Van der Burch would return to Leiden in 1663, but De Hooch stayed on in Amsterdam, probably until his death. De Hooch maintained contact with Delft, the home of his in-laws. For example, he signed a document there in 1663; and, related and simultaneous innovations in the work of both De Hooch and Johannes Vermeer (1632–75) suggest he was a regular visitor there.13 De Hooch also sought out painters in Amsterdam whom he had known in his Delft years, such as Emanuel de Witte (1671–92).14
Judging from where he lived in Amsterdam, De Hooch does not seem to have been prospering. Before settling in the Konijnenstraat, not far from the Lauriergracht in 1668—in a neighborhood where many artists were working at the time—De Hooch was living outside the old city walls. His first address was the Regulierspad, located beyond the Regulierspoort, in an area home to some of the city’s most impoverished citizens.15 When this ground was confiscated for the sake of the fourth city expansion, De Hooch and his family moved to Kattenburg on the Oostelijke Eilanden, an area largely belonging to the Admiralty and consisting primarily of shipbuilding yards. He never bought a house, and one searches in vain for his name in the tax records of 1674 of citizens with a capital of a 1000 or more guilders.
Yet, as appears from Amsterdam estate inventories, he did not lack for clients. In 1663 an unknown patron commissioned the splendid family portrait now in Cleveland.16 And around 1670 he painted a similar group portrait for the Jacott-Hoppesack family.17 In this context, his extant oeuvre is also worth mentioning: 100 of the approximately 150 pictures that can be securely attributed to him were painted in Amsterdam.18
He was long assumed to have died in 1684 after having lost his mind, for he was taken from the Dolhuys, or insane asylum, to be buried. However, it was recently demonstrated that this annotation in the burial register did not in fact bear on the painter, but on his son Pieter, who was born in Delft in 1655 and committed by his parents to the Dolhuys in 1679.19 When De Hooch himself actually died is unknown. For the time being, a painting by De Hooch dated 1684 is the artist’s last sign of life.