Douw, Gerhard

, an eminent artist, was born at Leyden in 1613, and after receiving some instructions from Dolendo, an engraver, and Kouwhoorn, a glasspainter, at the age of fifteen became a disciple of Rembrandt, with whom he continued three years. Rembrandt taught him the principles of colouring, and the chiaroscuro, to which knowledge Douw added a delicacy of pencil, and a patience in working up his colours to the highest degree of neatness, superior to any other master. His pictures are usually of a small size, with figures exquisitely touched, transparent and delicate. Every object is a minute copy of nature, and appears perfectly natural in colour, freshness, and force. In painting portraits he used a concave mirror, and sometimes looked at his original through a frame with many exact squares of fine silk; practices now disused, except by some miniature painters who still use the mirror.

Douw’s pictures have always been high-priced in his own country, and in every part of Europe; in finishing them he was curious and patient beyond example. Of this Sandrart gives a singular instance. Having once, in company with Bamboccio, visited Gerhard Douw, they admired a picture which he was then painting, and particularly the excessive neatness of a broom, when Douw told them, he should spend three days more in working on that broom, before he should account it entirely complete. In a family picture of Mrs. Spiering, the same author says, that the lady had sat five days for the finishing of one of | her hands that leaned on an arm-chair. For that reason, not many would sit to him for their portraits and he therefore indulged himself mostly in works of fancy, in which he could introduce objects of still life, and employ as much time on them as suited his own inclination. Houbraken testifies, that his great patron Mr. Spiering allowed him a thousand guilders a year, and paid beside whatever he demanded for his pictures, and purchased some of them for their weight in silver; but Sandrart, with more probability, assures us, that the thousand guilders a year were paid to Gerhard, on no other consideration than that the artist should give his benefactor the option of every picture he painted, for which he was immediately to receive the utmost of his demand.

Douw appears, incontestably, to be the most wonderful in his finishing of all the Flemish masters. Every thing that came from his pencil is precious, and his colouring hath exactly the true and the lovely tints of nature; nor do his colours appear tortured, nor is their vigour lessened by his patient pencil; for, whatever pains he may have taken, there is no look of labour or stiffness; and his pictures are remarkable, not only for retaining their original lustre, but for having the same beautiful effect at a proper distance, as they have when brought to the nearest view. The most capital picture of this master in Holland was, not very long since, in the possession of the widow Van Hoek, at Amsterdam; it was of a size larger than usual, being three feet high, by two feet six inches broad, within the frame. In it two rooms are represented; in the first (where there appears a curious piece of tapestry, as a separation of the apartments) there is a pretty figure of a woman giving suck to a child; at her side is a cradle, and a table covered with tapestry, on which is placed a gilt lamp, and some pieces of still life. In the second apartment is a surgeon’s shop, with a countryman undergoing an operation, and a woman standing by him with several utensils. The folding-doors show on one side a study, and a man making a pen by candle-light, and on the other side, a school with boys writing and sitting at different tables. At Turin are several pictures by Gerhard Douw, wonderfully beautiful; especially one, of a doctor attending a sick woman, and surveying an urinal. The execution of that painting is astonishingly fine; and although the shadows appear a little too dark, the whole has an | inexpressible effect. In the gallery at Florence, there is a nightpiece by candle-light, which is exquisitely finished; and in the same apartment, a mountebank attended by a number of figures, which, says Pilkington, it seems impossible either sufficiently to commend, or to describe. Sir Joshua Reynolds, however, has contrived to describe it without much commendation, as a picture that is very highly finished, but has nothing interesting in it. The heads have no character, nor are any circumstances of humour introduced. The only incident is a very dirty one, which every observer must wish had been omitted; that of a woman clouting a child. The rest of the figures are standing round, without invention or novelty of any kind. After other objections to this picture, sir Joshua observes that the single figure of the woman holding a hare, in Mr. Hope’s collection, is worth more than this large picture, in which perhaps there is ten times the quantity of work. Gerhard Douw died very opulent in 1674.1


Argenville, vol. III. —Descamps, vol. II. Sir J. Reynolds’s Works.