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Gerrit Dou

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Gerrit Dou was a Dutch painter of the 17th century and best known as the founder of the fijnschilderij, or “fine painting,” school of art. He was born in the city of Leiden on April 7, 1613 to Marytje Jansdr van Rosenburg and Douwe Jansz, a glassmaker and engraver. He likely studied glass painting and engraving under his father but would apprentice under three different artists in his boyhood. Most famously, on February 14, 1628, he began his apprenticeship with Rembrandt van Rijn, which was to be the most formative of the three in his career. His early works are almost indistinguishable from the work of Rembrandt. Dou’s paintings are characterized by their highly finished quality, resembling the smooth surface of glass. In his later works, he transitioned from the warm and rich browns typical of Dutch masters to a cooler and more pastel palette. Dou painted genre scenes, history paintings, still lifes, portraits, and (unusual for the Dutch Golden Age painters of his day) female nudes. He is best known for his small genre scenes in which one or two figures perform a domestic chore or gaze out of a windowsill. He is responsible for popularizing the windowsill as a compositional device. His works are uniquely detailed and the result of considerable time-consuming effort. The legend goes that he spent days on a detail smaller than a fingernail. Due to his incredible meticulousness, he charged outrageous prices for portraits, which may explain why so few of them exist. Gerrit Dou was highly successful during his career, and his paintings even out-priced Rembrandt until the end of the 19th century. Dou’s paintings were so valuable that the States-General of the Netherlands even gifted his paintings to Charles II of England as a political gift. Dou rarely left Leiden, and even when invited to be Charles II’s court painter, he refused and remained in his home city. In 1665, Johan de Bye organized an exhibition of 27 of Dou’s works, the first record of a show featuring a single artist. He died in February of 1675 and is buried in Pieterskerk in Leiden.

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