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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Gerrit Dou

Extraction of a Tooth, 1635, Gerrit Dou
An Artist in His Studio, 1630-32,
Gerrit Dou
Doesn't this picture just make you cringe? Virtually everyone dreads a visit to the dentist. Thank God for modern-day dentistry. Maybe it might be helpful, next time you're scheduled for "the chair" to pull up this image and note how the Dutch Golden Age painter, Gerrit Dou, depicted "modern-day" dentistry. (Note the basket of eggs nearby. I wonder what the going rate in eggs was for such torture.) Dou was a genre painter, seemingly somewhat like a photographer, going about Leiden painting the grocer, the fish monger, the school master, the poulterer, musicians, physicians, chiefs, cooks, and probably bottle washers. And whenever he had a spare moment, Gerrit Dou painted himself.
Rembrandt's Mother, 1630, Gerrit Dou
Dou's began his first self-portrait (left) at the age of seventeen as a student of Rembrandt, whom he studied under for three years. He was nineteen when he finished it. During his studies, he apparently picked up Rembrandt's penchant for self-portraits. He seems to have painted one roughly every five years for the rest of his life. He died in 1675. While studying with Rembrandt, Dou apparently persuaded Rembrandt's mother to pose for him, creating the only portrait of her not painted by Rembrandt (right). Judging by her apparent age, (as compared to Rembrandt's paintings of her), Dou's painting may be her first portrait. It was certainly one of Dou's first.

The painting is approximately 17 inches by 23 inches.
Dropsical Woman, 1663, Gerrit Dou,
a mere 86 by 67.8 cm.
Dou was what was known as a fijnschilder (fine painter). Unlike his painting master and other major talents during the "Golden Age," Dou's paintings were all quite modest in size, ranging from near miniatures up to around 18 inches by 24 inches. Yet most are literally crammed with detail. Dou was fortunate among painters; he was blessed by excellent eyesight nearly all his life. His paintings were not just exquisitely detailed, but very nearly what we'd call "polished," virtually no painterly brushstrokes (as opposed to Franz Hals, for instance). Dou even went so far as to manufacture his own tiny brushes. His Dropsical Woman (right), from 1663 is typical of much of his choice of subject matter. (Dropsy is referred to as Edema today.)

The Teacher (detail), 1645, Gerrit Dou. He appears to be a rather stern taskmaster.
The training under Rembrandt is apparent.
Despite their scale and incredible detail, Dou's genre paintings are never lacking for character insight. Though typically seen in the faces of most artists' work, Dou goes so far as to capture character in the hands as well as the tiny still-life details scattered about his scenes. He is said to have once spent five days painting a single hand. His still-life's are of the "fool the eye" variety, not unlike Dutch vanitas paintings. Dou is, and was, much admired for his polished technical skills. However, that and the modest size of his paintings, as well as his choice of familiar, everyday subject matter, probably had more to do with the salability of emotional appeal, and maintaining a modest, affordable price for his work.

Dog with Terracotta Pot, 1650, Gerrit Dou. A dog in a still-life? Pet portraits were not common during the Dutch "Golden Age," but what pet owner could resist?


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