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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Gerrit Dou

Notice the inclusion of the written word (poetry), sculpture, even music as Gerrit Dou touted painting as the "paragon of the arts" in depicting nature.
Art used to be considered much more important than it is today. From time to time in past ages there would arise various art controversies which were considered fundamentally critical at the time, but that today would likely fall in the realm of "who the hell cares." For instance, during the early 1800s the argument arose in the French Academy as to which was more important draughtsmanship or color (drawing or painting). That one eventually came to a draw as the academicist decided both were of equal importance (duh). Another similar argument having about as much consequence came up in the Netherlands during the Dutch "golden age." It had to do with which of the fine arts was best at representing nature, painting, sculpture, or poetry. Art historians refer to it now and then as the "paragon debate." Once more, today, we would dismiss the whole thing with something on the order of, "what the hell difference does it make?"

Gerrit Dou's paintings were all quite modes in size. The
self-portrait above, bottom-left, was a mere seven by five inches.
One artist of the time, the painter Gerrit Dou, seemed to think it made a lot of difference. Being a painter of some repute, he naturally came down on the side of painting. In fact, he pretty much devoted his entire painting career to trying to prove his point. His Old Painter in His Studio (top, left) was so "natural" (read, realistic), his technique so precise, he is said to have taken five days to paint a hand, with brushes so small he had to make them himself. Needless to say, he had few portrait clients. He was so impressed with himself, his portraits were mostly of himself (above).
OId Painter in his Studio, 1630-32, Gerrit Dou
The Silver Ewer, 1663, Gerrit Dou
The paragon debate is not only addressed in writings from that time, but is also reflected in the subject matter of quite a number of Dou’s paintings. An example, is his the Old Painter in his Studio (above), an old painter is shown working on a canvas behind a table displaying objects that show his capabilities of imitation. The aged painter refers to an argument in the paragon debate that a painter can achieve his best work at an old age, while a sculptor cannot because of the physical demands of sculpting. On the table, a sculptured head and a printed book are rendered in a lifelike fashion to show that painting can imitate both sculpture and printed paper, thereby reinforcing the notion that painting trumps sculpture and literature. Dou's The Silver Ewer (above) demon-strates his skill with still-lifes, though in fact, he painted very few of them among all his approximately two-hundred works. A prominent supporter of Dou's position goes so far as to argue that the ability of painting to "preserve the transient works of nature thereby also surpasses it."
Prince Rupert of the Palatinate and his Tutor, 1631,
Gerrit Dou, an excellent example of his portraiture.
A Painter in his Studio,
1637,  Gerrit Dou
Gerrit Dou (also sometime spelled "Douw" or "Dow") was born in 1613. Gerrit was the son of a Leiden stained glass maker, and as was the custom at that time, studied stained glass making before moving on at the age of fourteen to study under Rembrandt. Rembrandt was only seven years older than his talented young (and perhaps first) student. The Painter in his Studio (right) from 1637 is thought by some to, in fact, be Rembrandt. The title is somewhat confusing in that Dou used it (or close variations of it) numerous times over his career. In any case, at some point early on, Dou avoided becoming a Rembrandt look-alike to develop a style of his own. He managed to cultivate a minute and elaborate mode of painting. Today we'd probably refer to him as "anal-retentive."

Dentist by Candlelight, 1660-65, Gerrit Dou
Yet the general effect of Dou's work was harmonious and free from stiffness, while his color was always fresh and transparent. He often represented subjects in lantern or candle light, the effects of which he reproduced with an unparalleled fidelity and skill. Some of Dou's most popular works are night scenes such as Dentist by Candlelight (above) and his Woman Drawing a Beverage (below).

Woman Drawing a Beverage, Gerrit Dou
Dou's died in 1675, though his work continued to command respect (and high prices) for some two-hundred years after his death. However, around the 1860s he fell into obscurity. In terms of Dutch art, Gerrit Dou was on a par with Rembrandt or Frans Hals, but remained quite obscure until the 1970s when there were several retrospectives involving Dutch painting, which helped reestablish and maintain his reputation and popularity since.

Hermit, 1665, Gerrit Dou On the table are
an open book, a rosary and an hour glass.

Sleeping Dog, 1650, Gerrit Dou


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