Room 26

Music, merry-making, and morality: Dutch scenes of everyday life

Paintings of everyday life took many forms during the Dutch Golden Age, from the bourgeois interiors of Vermeer and Metsu, to the rowdy tavern scenes painted by Steen and the meticulous depictions of working people by Dou. These diverse subjects are united by their refined technique and attention to detail, which invite the viewer to look more closely.

Many of the paintings displayed in this room depict music as an elegant art enjoyed by the upper echelons of society. These paintings encourage us to experience music visually; to imagine not only the sound of the instruments, but the rustle of expensive fabrics as the musicians move to lift their bows or run their fingers along the keyboard. Music in these paintings is always serene and harmonious.

The paintings on the other side of the room depict far livelier pastimes. Inns, brothels, and kitchens are here scenes of discord, as women fall asleep after too much drink, objects are carelessly broken, and tasks left unfinished. The loose behaviour depicted in these paintings is at odds with their fine technique: it is important to remember that, as well as offering a moral message, these paintings were primarily made to be enjoyed.