Gerard Dou’s Life Before 1631

SOME uncertainty has hitherto existed as to the year of Gerard Dou’s’ birth, since his own evidence on the famous picture in the Louvre, The Woman with Dropsy, has been thought more trustworthy than the statement of Orlers, Dou’s first biographer. But Rammelman Elsevier has settled the point once for all, proving by documentary evidence that Orlers is correct and, indeed, on Dou’s portrait of himself we find inscribed, “G Dou 1652, aetatis 39,” and on another (at Munich, No. 135 ; Plate 14), ” G Dou 1663 eat. 50.” It is thus an established fact that Gerard Dou was born in the town of Leyden on April 7th, 1613.

His father, Douwe Janszoon, known as De Vries of Arentsvelt—probably a village or farmstead— was born at Harlingen, and had, early in the seventeenth century, settled at Leyden as a glass-worker and writer on glass. He there married, in November, 1609, Maria Jansdochter the daughter of Jan), of Wassenaer, or of Roozenburg,

‘ He himself spelt his name Gerrit Dou (or rather Dov), but in a popular work it has seemed advisable to accept the familiar form, as in the National Gallery catalogue, Gerard Dou. This is one of the pictures considered genuine by Dr. Martin.

Douwe Jansz., who was enrolled as a burgess of Leyden in 1615, and in the same year became one of the signatories to a petition for the constitution in that town of a glass-makers’ guild, seems to have been a prosperous citizen. That he was one of the masters of his craft is evident, not merely from the fact that he was for many years the head of the Guild, but also from the number of pupils and apprentices who worked under him. Moreover, he owned sundry houses on Kort Rapen burg, in one of which he dwelt with his family. As it is desirable to know something of Dou’s relations, a short account of them must be given here.

In the census for the poll-tax in 1622 we find the following record : ” Cortrapenburg, east side … Douwe Jansz’ Glaesmaecker ; Marytgen Jansdr. sijn huysvrou (his wife) ; Trijntgen Vechters, Vechter Vechters, the wife’s children by a previous marriage ; Jan Douwesz. Gerrit Douwesz., their children ; G0vert Jansz., a boarder (he was an apprentice), in all 7 persons.”

This not only shows where Dou lived as a boy, but it also proves that he had a brother named Jan, besides half-brother and a half-sister, the children of his mother The half-brother worked under Douwe Jansz., and th apprentice and servants signed contracts with them both so that it would appear that Douwe carried on the business of his wife’s husband. Gerard Dou’s half-sister soon after married Simon van Tol, secretary to the two Katwijks, and had four children, one of whom was Dominicus van Tol the painter, who was thus Dou’s nephew, and for some time worked under his uncle’s direction. Antonia van Tol, his niece, afterwards kept house for him.’ Jan Dou died comparatively young (between 1641 and 1651), and his wife soon followed him, leaving only a daughter, Maria Jansdr. Dou.

Gerard Dou was intended by his father to follow the craft of glass-worker, and naturally had to learn to draw if he were to become a good glass ” writer,” or, more properly, engraver. Douwe Janszoon found him a teacher in Bartholomeus Dolendo, “a right good plate etcher,” as Orlers calls him. Dolendo, then fifty years of age, was an engraver of good technical practice, and a conscientious draughtsman, as may be seen in his prints. He chiefly produced mythological, biblical and historical subjects from the paintings or drawings of other masters ; but some were of his own invention. Some portraits by him are also known : one of Lipsius, 1591, and one of Scaliger, 1607. Figure-drawing was his strong point, in the style of the time as represented in Holland by Goltzius ; and his engravings show how diligently he followed that admirable master. To him Gerard Dou, in his ninth year, was sent to learn.

Since in his earliest known works we find him a sound draughtsman, we may conclude that, though he probably inherited the talent from his father, and may perhaps have learnt elementary drawing under his master of humanities, one Henricus Rivelinck, it was his training under Dolendo that gave the firm hand which we see even in his youthful work. The pupil began by drawing from the flat and the round, and after thorough elementary grounding, drawing from the living figure took the first, and from still-life generally a secondary place. Indeed it is evident from the writings of Hoogstraten and Constantijn Huyghens that the course was practically the same as in our day. The pupil next studied anatomy and perspective.

All these studies were carried on in the studio ; so far as we know there was never any question, in Dou’s training, of work out of doors. This is very evident in his pictures, especially in the way he paints trees, as, for example, in the Quack Doctor at Munich,in which he repeats the conventional tree-structure common to the Italian and Flemish schools, adopted no doubt from engraved works, and perhaps actually taught by Dolendo

However, it is certain that he thoroughly learnt the ” fundamental principles of drawing ” during the year and a half he spent with the engraver, and he then probably developed the purpose of devoting himself to painting. His father, however, still meant him to be a glass-worker, and to that end sent him to work with Pieter Couwen-horn, an ” artistic ” glass-worker, to learn to engrave glass, a form of applied art then much in vogue. He remained apprenticed to this master two years and a half, longer than was required by the rules of the Guild, which insisted only on two years’ apprenticeship ; and afterwards, in about 1626, Douwe Jansz. took him into his workshop ” and employed him in glass-engraving and glass-working, wherein he did his father good service and profit.” Meanwhile, in 1625, his name had been entered, with that of his elder brother Jan, in the books of the Guild, and it occurs again, with those of his father and brother, in 1627.

However, whether because ” he was too daring in climbing up to windows, as well for putting in new (glass) as for mending old,” or because he had no taste for the work and eagerly desired to devote himself to art, it is certain that in 1628 we find only Douwe Jansz. and his eldest son among those who paid their annual fee to the glass-makers’ guild, a fact confirmed by Orlers, who tells us that “his father, against his judgment, determined to take him from the glass-working and to enable him to learn the art of painting; and to that end, in the year 1628, on the 4th February, when the lad was fifteen years old, he placed him “with the skilled and far-famed Mr. Rembrant.”

We might be tempted by Orlers’ words to believe in this early fame of Rembrandt’s, which led to a preference for his teaching, but that it is hard to accept the statement when we look at his works of that time. In 1628 there were portrait-painters in Leyden of greater note than Rembrandt, especially van Schooten and Bailly, though the latter was chiefly a teacher of still-life painting. It seems likely that some other reason, a friendship perhaps between the families of Dou and van Rijn—who dwelt in the same neighbourhood, and were of the same citizen class—may have led to the choice. Possibly, too, the selection fell on Rembrandt because he had been a pupil of the famous Lastman—a very modern spirit in his day—for which reason Lievens and van Vliet learnt of him as well.

From this decision it is evident that Dou was intended to be a portrait-painter, for that was the easiest way of making money. Portrait-painting was the most favoured branch of art in Leyden, and a young ” counterfeit painter in 1630 had a future before him. Douwe Janszoon could hardly have foreseen that other painters would be chosen in preference to his son, because Gerard’s elaborate finish demanded too much patience of his sitters.

Leyden, which at the end of the sixteenth century had been inferior in the fine arts to some other towns, especially to Haarlem and Amsterdam, came to the front again at the beginning of the seventeenth. Many more or less illustrious names are found on the list of her artists. The Swanenburch family of artists were the first to show that a new impulse was awake there. Jacob Swanenburch, Rembrandt’s first teacher, who when in Italy had become acquained with Elsheimer’s manner of painting, showed by his works that the modern spirit was beginning to prevail in Leyden, and Jacob’s brother Claesz. took a new line in his historical pictures. The same influence was seen in the pictures by Pieter van Veen, the town advocate of Leyden, and his brother, the better known Otto Venius ; indeed, by the beginning of the century a small circle of painters had formed in Ley den, among them the teachers of the greatest Dutch masters. Besides Aernout and Louis Elsevier and Jan Adriaensz. Knotter, the best known are Conrad van Schilperoort and Conrad van der Maes, as having been the teachers of Jan van Goyen and Joris van Schooten.

Van Schooten’s archery scenes, though rather dry in manner, are sound in drawing and bright in tone, and show that he understood the aims of the great portrait-painters of his day, especially those of Amsterdam. Still, his style was essentially that of a transition period ; the first truly modern portrait-painter in Leyden was David Bailly, who may be regarded as the leader of the painters who developed there about 1630.

Besides the circle which found its centre in him, there was a small group of landscape-painters : they lost their own leaders by the death of the marine painter, Percellis, in 1632, and by van Goyen’s removal to the Hague in 1631. Only Cornelis Stooter, who painted portraits as well as sea-pieces, and Maerten Fransz. de Hulst remained, with a few less important artists in landscape.

Bailly had considerable influence; he had studied under the famous Cornelis van der Voort of Amsterdam; from 1608 to 1613 he travelled in Italy and Germany, painted for the Duke of Brunswick, and then finally settled in Leyden, where he was in demand as a portrait-painter, though his pictures of still-life were also in great repute. The pupils he formed were almost all painters of still-life. Among them may he named Pieter and Harmen van Steenwijck, and almost certainly Jan Davidsz. de Heem, and Pieter Potter, who at that period were in Leyden, and painting ” Vanitas ” pictures.’ Even Rembrandt, who painted so many studies with still-life accessories between 1627 and 1630, seems to have felt his influence through the young painters of his acquaintance, who had worked in Bailly’s studio.

And there were many more quite unimportant artists, such as were to be found in every town, mere painters for their bread, who had no effect on the progress of art.

Ere this the young painter, Rembrandt, had begun to gather pupils about him. After working in Amsterdam for six months under Lastman’s guidance, he had settled in Leyden, painting chiefly portraits and biblical subjects. Lastman’s novel scheme of composition was at that time carried out by the younger man. His mode of grouping and taste in accessories are to this day evidence of this ; and though as yet no great master of technique, he seems to have hit the public taste, perhaps by his modern feeling and also by the strong likeness in his portraits of the worthy citizens. At any rate, by 1628 he already had three pupils, Jan Lievens, Gerard Dou and Jan Joris van Vliet.

The first-named Dou found in the studio, when his father took him to Rembrandt. Lievens, scarce a year younger than his teacher, was an artist of Leyden, who, after learning of a master in the town, had gone to Amsterdam and studied, like Rembrandt, under Lastman, but for a longer time, from 1617 to 1619. And on his return to Leyden he seems to have spent his whole life in ” feeling his way,” for he never achieved originality, and later, in England, became a follower of van Dyck. At this time, however, he and Rembrandt were fairly on a level, and they worked together as friends rather than as master and pupil.

Van Vliet, a mediocre painter at the best, proved himself a zealous pupil, in so far as that he etched several of Rembrandt’s works (reversed in the printing, however), and showed himself well skilled in that technique.

The relation of Dou to Rembrandt was in the nature of things that of a pupil to his master. Rembrandt, seven years older than Dou, must from the first have impressed the artist of fifteen, if only by the details he could relate of the methods of work and teaching in Lastman’s studio; and we may picture to ourselves how, not unfrequently, when the three painters were working from the same model, Rembrandt would stand by Dou’s easel and make his comments, or even with a few touches of his brush show him the right way to set to work.

In the three years of his studies with Rembrandt much work was done, and what that work was we can accurately determine, since several paintings of that period remain to us. Rembrandt’s talent developed with amazing rapidity. Even if his pictures of 1627 do not show what a height he might reach, and though his Samson captured by the Philistines, 1628, is still awkwardly composed, his portraits of himself, at Gotha and Cassel, show the talent which reached its goal with giant strides.

The only means of progress to success which Rembrandt employed, and with him Lievens and Dou, was working from the life. In the spacious studio, as painted by Dou,very simply fitted, on the walls merely a few studies and such accessories as may have been brought from Lastman’s some Turkish and other weapons, a Chinese parasol, and in a corner perhaps an earthenware jar in this studio they painted from the life, sometimes from themselves and sometimes having some friend or neighbour for a model. Rembrandt’s father and mother seem repeatedly to have sat to the three young artists. Old Harmen’s characteristic head was soon an object of study to his son, not merely for several paintings but also for his first etching.’ Dou naturally tried his powers on the same model. Now wrapped in a fur cloak, wearing a gorget, or again, as a figure in a composition, Rembrandt’s father repeatedly appears in the works of Dou and of Rembrandt between 1628 and 1630 ; and even after his death (27th April, 1630) his portrait recurs in their pictures, a proof of the impression made on both the artists by that typical head.

The earliest portrait of Harmen by Dou is now at St. Petersburg, in the possession of Baron von Lippart (No. 188). It is a bust, and shows with what earnest endeavour the. young painter was working in 1630, about the date of the picture. The arrangement is simple, suggested, perhaps, by Rembrandt to his pupil. The sitter, dressed in a purple cloak with a green cap on his head, is represented as an astronomer, looking thought-fully at a globe, of which only a small part is visible in the right-hand lower corner of the picture. The artist’s brush still evidently lacks freedom, and, especially in the half shadows, betrays his want of experience. The head, though well drawn and modelled, is weak in colour, and the background, an unsuccessful attempt to imitate Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro, does not improve the general effect. Not long after, Dou tried again, with better success again dressed his model in the purple cloak, and again gave him a stooping attitude, but this time in prayer, with a rosary in his folded hands ; and these, though the weakest part of the work, are fairly well executed. Even later, and in general, hands were a weak point in Dou’s work. He would always avoid them if possible, and in the St. Petersburg portrait they are not prominent.

The most pleasing portrait of Rembrandt’s father ever painted by Dou is that at Cassel , in which he is represented as wearing a gorget with a blue scarf over his shoulder, and on his head, a biretta with a feather ; in fact, in the costume in which Rembrandt repeatedly painted him. The work is interesting, not merely because it was done shortly before Harmen’s death and under his son’s eye, but because it is the companion picture to one of Rembrandt’s mother, also at Cassel, painted by Dou at the same date. For Rembrandt’s mother, Neeltge Willemsdochter, was no less frequently a model for the young men in the studio. The old woman must have had unwearied patience to sit so often in every possible attitude. She generally wears a very peculiar costume, reminding us of Lastman’s taste and influence, a dress that perhaps Rembrandt had brought from Amsterdam with the Turkish and other eastern accessories. A purple velvet cloak trimmed with fur drapes her person, a kerchief or veil and a fur hood cover her hair, and she wears a chain round her neck. Thus attired she is seen sometimes peacefully sleeping, at others sunk in her favourite study of the Bible ; once only is she painted with a newspaper in her hand. She constantly figures in Rembrandt’s etchings and paintings after 1628. Lievens also occasionally worked from the same model, and she is seen in many of Dou’s genre pictures.

The portrait at Cassel is the last, and quite the best of those painted of her by Dou. The earliest is in the Berlin Museum; this is quite small, no more than 8 3/4 x6 3/4 in., much smaller than that of Rembrandt’s father at St. Petersburg, which was painted at the same time, and than his first composition with figures, a view of Rembrandt’s studio , which was painted even earlier. It is weak in execution, and lacks the fine quality of the St. Petersburg Astronomer, but the likeness is evident. Somewhat later, he painted the two portraits of her which are now at Dresden, and which show the progress he had made, both in the use of the brush and in improving his gray, dull colouring. The second is a replica of a picture in the possession of Mr. Adrien Dollfusz in Paris, in which he painted the same sitter, but not to his satisfaction, and he seems afterwards to have executed the Dresden picture, which is better, though identical in every detail. He was even more successful in the other of the two Dresden pictures, which, in fact, reminds us greatly of Rembrandt ; but the treatment of the hands and of the forehead plainly tells us that the work is Dou’s.

In or about 1631 the artist had already tried his powers on a half-length portrait, about half the size of life, also of Rembrandt’s mother—reading the Bible (No. 166 ; Plate 3). This, which is described by Michel as a work by Rembrandt,’ is one of the most pleasing portraits ever painted by Dou ; well drawn, simply arranged, and quiet in tone. Every detail is carefully studied, the face and hands no less than the dress and the book are sincerely painted, without the excessive minuteness which is the defect of his later works. Indeed, so long as he worked under Rembrandt’s direct influence, though his brush-work was smooth and even, he never fell into the licked finish which may be noted after 1645.

Besides painting from these two old people, the three young artists painted portraits of themselves. We have here no concern with Rembrandt’s portraits of himself; they are numerous, as oil-pictures, etchings and drawings. Gerard Dou was not so indefatigable in studying his own head. He more frequently, both now and later, introduced his own portrait as a figure, in Rembrandt’s Studio, for instance, in the picture described in Sedelmeyer’s catalogue, 1894, where the picture is reproduced. Dou is seen, palette in hand, amid the familiar accessories of the studio ; a panel rests on an easel. Dou also painted Rembrandt in the same surroundings, standing before an easel and painting a composition of figures . This is one of Dou’s earliest and least accomplished pieces.

When Rembrandt began to paint figure subjects Dou was prompt in following his example ; we know not whether he, too, tried his hand on Lot and his Daughters, The Rape of Proserpine, and the like. By one subject alone have we actual evidence that he attempted genre of this kind besides portrait-painting and interiors.

Between 1627 and 1631 Rembrandt had a model whom he repeatedly painted, an old man with white hair and a gray beard, first seen in his St. Peter at Stuttgart. About 1630 he made studies from this man in red chalk, two of which are in the Louvre, and in 1631 painted him as St. Jerome.’ This picture was so much to his pupil’s taste that Dou imitated it forthwith. For it must have been soon after, or perhaps in the same year, 1631, that he painted the Hermit now in the Dresden Gallery. The brush-work and colour show plainly that it was executed at about the same time as the larger portrait of Rembrandt’s mother. Dou annexed the composition of the St. Jerome in all its important features ; also at Dresden the basket, crucifix, Bible, hour-glass, etc., and the general attitude and aspect of his Hermit—whom he did not venture to designate as St. Jerome, probably because he could not draw a lion remind us of Rembrandt’s picture. But the model and the accessories are not identical ; in the background to the left we see a staircase, and to the right a door, which are familiar to us from other pictures painted after he had parted from Rembrandt. Who can decide whether this work was executed before or after his master’s departure for Amsterdam ?

It is equally impossible to determine whether it was during his studies under Rembrandt that Dou painted two incidents from The History of Tobit. In composition they strikingly resemble the work of the master, whose Tobias in the Arenberg Gallery, Brussels, and his Blind Tobit, known only by an etching by W. P. de Leeuw, resemble not only Dou’s pictures of the same subjects, but in their composition suggest also Dou’s Old Woman Spinning, at Schwerin, for which Rembrandt’s mother was the model, and his Woman Peeling Potatoes .

All these pictures, and a number of others, were painted partly in or shortly after 1631, partly some few years later, and they show how long Rembrandt’s influence affected his pupil’s efforts. Still, even in these, the perfectly different spirit which animated Dou begins :o reveal itself. He is already fond of introducing minute accessories—a butterfly or some other insect, )r a few flowers admirably painted—as in The Hermit ust mentioned ; he signs his name, too, in some spot where it would least be looked for, and from about 1631 betrays a love of trivial detail and miniature workmanship, which grew stronger as time went on. But he made good progress; his work was carefully set out, and, most important of all, his portraits, no less than those of his master, were speaking likenesses. Indeed, when Rembrandt removed to Amsterdam, having a large number of orders for portraits there, and Lievens quitted Leyden at the same time, Dou did not hesitate a moment, but established himself independently in his native town to continue in the way Rembrandt had opened up for him. He, no doubt, cherished the hope of becoming such a portrait-painter as his master, but at the same time he also began painting genre, at first as a secondary, but afterwards as the principal branch of his art. He took a studio on the Galgewater and worked with great industry, and by his pictures he made so great a name that ” everybody who saw them could but admire their prettiness and curiosity (fine details), and his pieces soon wire held in great esteem by lovers of art, and were bought very dear,” says Orlers.