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 Gerrit Dou  (1613 - 1675)

/ DOW/
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Lived/Active: Netherlands/Holland      Known for: trompe l'oeil genre and portrait painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Gerrit Dou
1613 (Leiden, Holland)
1675 (Leiden, Holland)


Self portrait -

Often Known For
trompe l'oeil genre and portrait painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Gerrit Dou (April 7, 1613 - February 9, 1675), also known as Gerard and Douw or Dow, was a Dutch Golden Age* painter, whose small, highly-polished paintings are typical of the Leiden fijnschilders.  He specialized in genre scenes and is noted for his trompe l'oeil* "niche" paintings and candlelit night-scenes with strong chiaroscuro*.

His first instructor in drawing and design was Bartholomew Dolendo, an engraver*; and he afterwards learned the art of glass-painting under Peter Kouwhoorn.  At the age of 15 he became a pupil of Rembrandt, with whom he continued for three years.  From the great master of the Dutch School* he acquired his skill in coloring, and in the more subtle effects of chiaroscuro; and the style of Rembrandt is reflected in several of his earlier pictures, notably in a portrait of himself at the age of 22, and in the Blind Tobit going to meet his Son.

At a comparatively early point in his career, however, he had formed a manner of his own distinct from, and indeed in some respects antagonistic to, that of his master.  Gifted with unusual clearness of vision and precision of manipulation, he cultivated a minute and elaborate style of treatment; and probably few painters ever spent more time and pains on all the details of their pictures down to the most trivial.  He is said to have spent five days in painting a hand; and his work was so fine that he found it necessary to manufacture his own brushes.

Notwithstanding the minuteness of his touch, however, the general effect was harmonious and free from stiffness, and his color was always admirably fresh and transparent.  He was fond of representing subjects in lantern or candle light, the effects of which he reproduced with a fidelity and skill which no other master has equaled.  He frequently painted by the aid of a concave mirror, and to obtain exactness looked at his subject through a frame crossed with squares of silk thread.  His practice as a portrait painter, which was at first considerable, gradually declined, sitters being unwilling to give him the time that he deemed necessary. His pictures were always small in size, and represented chiefly subjects in still life.  Upwards of 200 are attributed to him, and specimens are to be found in most of the great public collections of Europe.

His chef-d'oeuvre is generally considered to be The Dropsical Woman (1663), and The Dutch Housewife (1650), both in the Louvre*.  The Evening School, in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum, is the best example of the candlelight scenes in which he excelled.  In the National Gallery, London, favorable specimens are to be seen in the Poulterer's Shop (1672), and a portrait of himself (see above).

Dou's pictures brought high prices, and it is said that the art lover Van Spiering of The Hague paid him 1,000 florins a year simply for the right of pre-emption.  Dou died in Leiden.  His most celebrated pupil was Frans van Mieris the Elder. According to the RKD, his other pupils were Bartholomeus Maton, Carel de Moor, Matthijs Naiveu, Abraham de Pape, Godfried Schalcken, Pieter Cornelisz van Slingelandt, Domenicus van Tol, Gijsbert Andriesz Verbrugge, and Pieter Hermansz Verelst.


* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from J. Paul Getty Museum and Research Institute:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

After learning to paint from his father, a glass engraver, Gerrit Dou was apprenticed to a distinguished printmaker and glass painter, receiving additional formal artistic training from the Leiden glaziers' guild.  At fifteen he was appointed to the enviable position of apprentice in Rembrandt's studio, where he studied for six years.  After Rembrandt left Leiden in 1631, his influence on Dou waned.

Dou continued to paint on wood in a small scale but adopted cooler colors and a more highly refined technique characteristic of the fijnschilders (fine painters), a group of Leiden artists who painted small, highly finished pictures.  Portraits in impasto gave way to domestic genre subjects, enamel-smooth and rich in accessory details.

Dou became one of the highest paid artists in the Netherlands and the founder of the Leiden painters' guild. Royal patrons from all over Europe sought him out. King Charles II of England even offered him the post of court painter, which he refused.  Despite his international reputation, Dou scarcely left his native Leiden.

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