A detail from The Grocery Shop by Gerrit Dou (1613-75), now in the Queen's Collection - bought by George IV for 1000 guineas in 1817. Dou's reputation (and prices) were then still high. He gave tremendous value. He attended closely to the play of light as it came through a window or was thrown out by a candle. He rendered the textures of wood, metal, fabric and fur meticulously. No wonder he died a wealthy man. Then, in the latter half of the 19th century, his reputation suffered a near complete eclipse. Other ways of handling paint and seeing the world became dominant. Vermeer and Hals were rediscovered. Dou's skills were despised. His paintings were 'monuments of an irrelevant virtue' which showed how 'patience may be misused' (Walter Armstrong, Director of the National Gallery of Ireland in 1904). He was no longer avidly collected: there was not a single panel by Dou in the exhibition held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1909 of 150 Dutch paintings from the collections of wealthy Americans (Widener, Frick, Morgan, Altman and Marquand). The Dutch art historian Willem Martin, in the introduction to a monograph of 1901, almost apologised for giving time to the work. Like Joshua Reynolds, he said, he turned from Dou 'with admiration on the lips but indifference in the heart'.
LRB 5 October 2000 | PDF Download