Self-Portrait (detail), c. 1665, oil on panel, arched top, 59 x 43.5 (23 1/4 x 17 1/8), private collection, Boston


Gerrit (Gerard) Dou was born on 7 April 1613 in Leiden, a cultural, intellectual, and commercial crossroads for much of Europe in the seventeenth century. Situated halfway between The Hague and Amsterdam, it had a prosperous textile industry and the first Protestant university in The Netherlands. Dou's father, Douwe Jansz, owned a successful glass engraving workshop in Leiden. Dou himself studied the craft for two and a half years with a leading glassmaker, developing an eye for fine details that became characteristic of his painting style.

Around 1627-1628 Dou became a pupil in Rembrandt's workshop, probably agreeing to pay for tuition and materials. From Rembrandt, Dou adopted many of his early subjects, his dramatic contrasts of light and dark, a fascination with self-portraiture, and meticulous rendering of textures. When Rembrandt left for Amsterdam in 1631, Dou stayed in Leiden and continued to perfect his style. He soon gained an important patron, Pieter Spiering, who was the representative of Queen Christina of Sweden and who agreed to pay Dou a handsome annual stipend for his work.

Dou was lauded as an exemplary painter in 1641 and became a founding member of the Leiden painters' guild in 1648. His fame spread throughout Europe, where his paintings were collected by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, Cosimo III de Medici, and other elite patrons. The States General of The Netherlands included some of Dou's paintings in its gift to Charles II of England at his restoration to the British throne in 1660. Jan de Bye, another patron, presented an exhibition of twenty-seven paintings by Dou in 1665. Dou was also a popular teacher, who became the head of the Leiden fine painters (fijnschilders). Among his pupils were Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667) and Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635-1681).

Gerrit Dou never married and had the reputation of being obsessively neat and detail-oriented. He died in Leiden in 1675 and was buried in the St. Pieters Kerk on 9 February of the same year.

Biographical notes from
catalogue essay by Ronni Baer

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