Curator’s Choice: Small Treasures

/ Exhibitions

"Seated Boy Eating Porridge" (around 1655), Pieter Jacobsz Duyfhuysen, Rotterdam, 1608-77. Oil on panel. Maida and George Abrams collection, Boston, MA. Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Seated Boy Eating Porridge around 1655 Pieter Jacobsz Duyfhuysen Rotterdam 1608 77 Oil on panel Maida and George Abrams collection Boston MA Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts Boston

One of my favorite pieces in Small Treasures: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Their Contemporaries is Seated Boy Eating Porridge.

Not only is the Seated Boy Eating Porridge a lovely and mysterious little painting, the name of the artist is also a real tongue twister. Pieter Jacobsz Duyfhuysen (as in mouse and house but softer: douf houzen) is a little known painter from Rotterdam, who really deserves to be looked at very closely. Just like with many other of the small treasures in our exhibition, the closer you look at this painting, the more you see.

A youngish boy is sitting on a simple chair holding a bowl in his hands. It is hard to tell whether he is about to eat or has already finished. The picture raises lots of questions, not the least of which is: Where is he? Inside? There is no indication of a room. He is poor, one would think. Curiously, he has lost a shoe and one of the sleeves of his shirt has come off. His bare, white arm stands in contrast to his tanned hands and face; clearly he is used to working outside. His pants are patched up and it looks like he has holes in his sock. But why? We really don’t know.

All the while we are looking at him trying to understand who he is and what happened to him, and we notice that he is looking right back at us, as if to let us know that he knows we are watching and judging him. Suddenly we feel like a voyeur, who has been caught looking at something we were not supposed to see.

Visit Small Treasures and discover the details, stories, and surprises hidden in each of these small-scale masterpieces. Small Treasures is open through April 26, 2015. Click here to learn more and plan your visit.