Adriaen van Ostade
Biography of Haarlem School Dutch Realist Painter.

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The Smoker (1655)
Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

For a quick reference guide, see:
Dutch Realist Artists. For their
main type of painting, see:
Dutch Realist Genre Painting.

Adriaen van Ostade (1610-85)


Adriaen van Ostade was born at Haarlem in 1610, admitted as a master painter in 1634, he was married in 1638, and a second time, to an heiress at Amsterdam, in 1657. No less than three times the guild chose him as headman. He died at a good old age in 1685 and was honourably buried in the Church of St. Bavon.

Ostade learned from two exuberant geniuses of 17th century Dutch painting, the portraitist Frans Hals (1582-1666) and genre painter Adriaen Brouwer (1605-38). In his extraordinarily thoughtful and skilful handling of the new aesthetic of Protestant Reformation art, everything is for character and truthfulness and nothing for show. His genre-painting charmingly combines ready sympathy of observation with reflection.

For details and information about
the 17th Century style of easel-art
which flourished in Holland, see:
Frans Snyders (1579-1657)
Still life painter from Antwerp.
Hendrik Terbrugghen (1588-1629)
Painter of the Utrecht school.
Gerard Terborch (1617-81)
Genre painter, Amsterdam, Haarlem.
Aelbert Cuyp (1620-91)
Dordrecht landscape artist.
Jan Steen (1626-79)
Leiden artist: tavern scenes.
Jacob Van Ruisdael (1628-82)
Haarlem-born landscape painter
Pieter de Hooch (1629-83)
Famous Delft school genre-painter.
Gabriel Metsu (1629-67)
Intimate small-scale genre scenes.
Jan Vermeer (1632-75)
Greatest Dutch Realist artist.
Baroque Art Movement
17th century art movement.

For the best still life painters:
Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-83)
Utrecht School of Dutch Realism.
Willem Kalf (1619-93)
Pronkstilleven Paintings.
Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-78)
Interiors, genre works, still lifes.
Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750)
Flower painter, still lifes.

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Oils, watercolours, mixed media
from 1300-present.

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For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.

Paintings and Style of Dutch Realism

His subject is the peasant or workman in moments of ease or recreation - dancing, singing, drinking, fighting, merely loafing in his dooryard. Children are often present in his pictures; he loves to represent the laborious quiet of schoolrooms. His oil painting, even when the pothouse is the scene, is not so shut in as Brouwer's. One generally feels the country near, and often glimpses it. His economy in composition is inferior to Brouwer's, but always adequate to his theme. He has not the same perfect tact in the choice of still life and accessories, and prefers larger groups. The relations and composition of his figures he studies most carefully, in numerous sprightly drawings, and in a delightful series of etchings.

His style of Dutch Realism developed under the influence of Rembrandt (1606-69), whose permeable dusk he emulated in his interiors. This dusk reduces the really considerable variety of colours in Ostade to hues, so that his pictures, really more positively colourful, yield less sense of colour than those of Brouwer, which are built around a single accent of frank colour.

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Unlike Brouwer, Ostade has no part in the life he studies. He is a gentleman with a hobby for the observation of peasant life. His attitude is kindly and understanding, just a little condescending. Accordingly his peasants have not the raciness and complete authenticity of Brouwer's. Ostade sees the peasant in terms of a grotesqueness which is not inherent, but relative to a middle-class point of view. Where Brouwer paints individuals, Ostade frequently resorts to types, and practices, in his squat, gnomelike proportions, a gentle and effective caricature.

When Ostade was still in pupil estate, in the late 1620s, Brouwer was at his brilliant beginnings at Haarlem. His influence is unmistakably dominant in the early Ostades. The peasant fights, at Munich and Dresden, the carouses, at Munich and Darmstadt, are conceived entirely in Brouwer's drastic vein, but are conducted without his conciseness and fine compositional economy. Ostade was evidently self-critical enough to realize his limitations, and soon abandoned subjects alien to his gentle disposition.

For another famous Haarlem artist, see the meticulous architectural painter: Pieter Jansz Saenredam (1597-1665).

From his early thirties we have his characteristic pictures, such as Interior of a Peasant Hut, 1642, and the Village Schoolmaster. The Peasant Hut has pretty much everything one would want in an Ostade - farm gear quietly visible in the dusk, handsome modulation of the light about a focus, suggestion of work and of the care of children - all cunningly woven into a cozy fairyland. The Village Schoolmaster - a subject Ostade loved and many times repeated - has a similar charm of interior lighting and a precious humouristic touch in the uncomfortable slouchiness of the pedagogue's little victims.

Ostade's interest in character and in the state of mind of groups is as great as his interest in action is slight. So the quintessential Ostades are perhaps the numerous tiny figures, usually seated half-lengths, which show the Hollander pleasantly off duty. The Reader, The Old Woman looking from a Window, and the Herring-Eater, are among the best. Probably the masterpiece in this vein is the Smoker, 1655.

In the swiftness and lightness of the handling we are still near the procedures of Frans Hals and Judith Leyster. That blissful nirvana which the convinced smoker occasionally attains is capitally suggested. The quadrangles of the window opening, the merely indicated casement, the reserved panel of the wall, and the diagonally presented table top are given a maximum compositional value. An exquisite example of the themes of the quintessential Dutch Realist style.

In his late forties Ostade came under the influence of Rubens' blond and transparent painting, and, I believe, may have studied the technically similar work of David Teniers the Younger (1610-90). Ostade brightens his palette a little, gives a larger place to light in his pictures, enriches his neutrals with opalescences of many tints, handles the pigment even more thinly and lightly. He tends to set his groups out-of-doors: the amazingly fresh and genial Strolling Fiddler; the Inn on a Country Road; a Skating Scene. To this period belong the admirable family group, After Dinner, in Buckingham Palace, London; the Backgammon Players, in the same collection; the Engaged Table, with its comfortably arranged group of cronies; and two very interesting pictures of himself painting in his studio, at Amsterdam and Dresden. In both he is working on a landscape, and the light pouring in from a window is thrown down, softened and diffused by a velarium. Thus his effective illumination is rather arranged and observed than invented.

The beginning of his colourful and delicate manner may be studied in Smoker and Drinker. For a restrained and discreet richness of colour in the minor key, few Dutch genre pictures surpass it. To such a temperament as Ostade's the alchemist fussing about his murky laboratory offered an attractive theme. He painted it a number of times. Ostade brings to the subject a gentle satire, a loving observation of incidental still life, and effects of illumination.

Occasionally he paints people of his own class, and carries off the unfamiliar theme with quiet distinction - the Marriage Contract; the so-called Portrait Group of his Family; the latter most graciously composed, animated in the characterization, with an interior spacious, atmospheric, and refined in design. The whole thing is instinct with ease, affection and unpretentious dignity.

For other members of the Haarlem school, see the vanitas painters: Willem Claesz Heda (1594-1680) and Pieter Claesz (1597-1660).


One of the most consistent of Dutch Old Masters, the ideal behind Adriaen van Ostade's art is that of a humorous poetizing of the peasant at ease - an exaltation of the peasant's canniness and ready friendliness. It is enough to make him one of the most companionable of painters, as he was one of the most delicately conscientious of technicians. Adriaen van Ostade died in April, 1685, having apparently been inactive for the last ten years or so of his life. He left to his only daughter, Maria, a handsome inheritance and no less than two hundred of his unsold pictures. There seems to have been no element of struggle in his life, and his fine art painting is rather fastidious than strenuous. Within its limitations it is quite perfect. Works by Adriaen van Ostade can be seen in the best art museums across Europe.

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