Painting found to alleviate housework drudgery

Pieter de Hooch, At the Linen Closet, 1663

In this modest domestic scene by the seventeenth-century Dutch genre painter Pieter de Hooch, we see a couple of women busy with a household task. There are no soldiers, kings, martyrs or divine figures in sight: this is ordinary life as we know it to this day.

It can be hard to see beauty and interest in the things we have to do every day and in the environments where we live. We have jobs to go to, bills to pay, homes to clean and keep running and we deeply resent the demands they make on us. They seem to be pulling us away from our real ambitions, getting in the way of a better life. Art, and art galleries, feel far away from all this: they are for a day off, somewhere to visit on holiday.

The linen closet itself could easily be resented. It is an embodiment of what could, under an unhelpful influence, be seen as boring, banal, repetitive – even unsexy.

But the picture moves us because we recognise the truth of its message. If only, like Pieter de Hooch, we knew how to recognise the value of ordinary routine, many of our burdens would be lifted. It gives voice to the right attitude: the big themes of life – the search for prosperity, happiness, good relationships – are always grounded in the way we approach little things. The statue above the door is a clue. It represents money, love, status, vitality, adventure. Taking care of the linen (and all that it stands for) is not opposed to these grander hopes. It is, rather, the way to them. We can learn to see the allure of those who look after it, ourselves included.

It’s a hard message to hold on to, because we are constantly being told other things. This painting is small in a big and noisy world – but that so many people revere it is hopeful, it signals that we know, deep down, that de Hooch is onto something important.