I can see a ghost!

This time our guest blog is written by Belgian artist Max van Hemel. Max won the Artourney Graphic Artist of January 2021 and was keen to jump on our blog. He runs a very interesting and varied art blog for all our Dutch speaking art lovers. You can find it here. Max does commissioned portrait drawings and can also be found on Instagram. This blog post is a good example of some of the knowledge and background stories about well known art pieces that Max shares with his readers:

One of my favorite museums is the Mauritshuis in The Hague. You will see many beautiful works of art and also quite a few well-known masterpieces. Definitely worth a visit.

One of the beautiful paintings is this work by Pieter de Hoogh: A courtyard with a smoking man and a drinking woman (1658– 1660).

A daily scene on a courtyard where we get a picture of life in the mid-1600s with an atmosphere that we also find in Vermeer's paintings. Some paintings by De Hooch could even be confused with those of his contemporary fellow in terms of theme.

But why is this painting the subject of this blog? It's just a courtyard with a smoking gentleman, a drinking lady and a child, isn't it? Maybe it's a family on a Sunday morning chillin’ in the sun. Could be... But when we zoom in a little bit on the image we see something "weird"...

On the table is a second pipe and the drinking jug – which normally closes by itself – remains open... (no, it's not quite like the one with a music box in it that you might know from grandmother's). Looks like there's a ghost sitting at the table. And behind the man in black there’s an extra coat over the fence and yet it doesn't seem the type of weather to be wearing 2 coats. Mysterious, mysterious, mysterious! It's haunted painting.

The painting is currently being restored and is being thoroughly studied for the restoration. During the study the restorers found the ghost not to be as invisible as he appears at first sight. The ghost is a soldier.

Another trace of the missing soldier is a photograph taken in the 1920s by Martin de Wild, a well-known Dutch restorer of paintings. He handled the painting and exposed the soldier. Pretty damaged and a little pale around his nose, but still present. De Wild decided to overpaint the man again but in an XRay the shape of the soldier is still visible.

These details and photo tell us that Pieter de Hooch originally intended this painting as a drinking game with two soldiers, and not as a romantic story of a man and a woman. A little less charming than we thought at first sight.

A similar painting by Pieter de Hooch can be found in Washington. The soldier is clearly painted there and so the ghost is completely visible! Mystery solved.

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