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Cat Crouching on the Ledge of an Artist’s Atelier

Gerrit Dou (Leiden 1613 – 1675 Leiden)
oil on panel
34 x 26.9 cm
signed information

signed and dated in brown paint along lower edge: “GDou 1657”

inventory number

Surh, Dominique. “Cat Crouching on the Ledge of an Artist’s Atelier.” In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. New York. (accessed January 16, 2019).

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Gerrit Dou, consummate master of artifice, was renowned for the illusionism of his niche pictures. As in this remarkable painting, Dou would place figural elements within the opening of a niche, a motif that served both as a framing device and an illusionistic construct. Dou not only situated these niches at the very front of the picture plane, but he also placed pictorial elements, like the tail of the cat in this picture, so that they extended into the viewer’s realm. To reinforce the connection to the external world, Dou always placed his light source so that it appeared to illuminate the front of the niche, generally from the upper left. The niche motif, thus, allowed Dou to examine issues of reality and illusionism that were central to his artistic concerns, ones that he reinforced in the meticulous rendering of different materials and textures, ranging from hard stone to soft fur.

In this striking painting Dou portrayed a grey-and-white-striped cat crouching in profile on a stone niche opening into an artist’s studio, a subject that is unique in the artist’s oeuvre. The cat’s individualized character and the specificity of the portrayal suggest that it was modeled after a particular animal. Using a brush consisting of only a few bristles, Dou applied countless minuscule strokes of multicolored paint to create the cat’s plush fur (). With its tail that seems to twitch, alert eyes, and unmistakable curiosity animating its presence, the cat appears alive as it focuses its attention on something to the right of the picture plane.

Dou appears to have conceived this unusual painting with a quite different composition. X-radiographs have shown that Dou initially painted a young woman leaning forward toward the cat before painting the red curtain hanging from the niche [() and ()]. An infrared reflectogram reveals a small rectangular shape in the lower right corner of the windowsill that may have been a mousetrap [() and ()]. Technical photographs also suggest that the niche once extended beyond the upper and right edges of the panel, suggesting that Dou initially began painting on a larger panel that he later reduced in format. This idea is reinforced by the fact that only a single bevel is found on the reverse of the panel, by which one can infer that the panel has been trimmed down on the other three sides.

Other composition changes may also have occurred. The X-radiograph and infrared photograph indicate that a curtain was initially gathered about two-thirds up the left side of the painting and that a circular object once existed in the center-left, perhaps a globe resting on a table [() and ()]. Nevertheless, it is not certain whether or not these pictorial elements were part of a preliminary stage of the final composition or belonged to an earlier, altogether unrelated scene.

A painting focused on a cat is quite unusual in seventeenth-century painting. The most comparable image occurs not in a painting but in an engraving—Cornelis Visscher’s (1629–58) The Large Cat, ca. 1657 (). Not only do the two works date from about the same year, they both portray a crouching feline in profile. Although Dou may have known of this print and it may have inspired his painting, a direct connection seems unlikely since the two works are quite different in character. The cat in Visscher’s engraving is dozing and has not noticed a small mouse in behind it, whereas Dou’s cat is alert and alive, intently gazing into the distance.

Cat Crouching on the Ledge of an Artist’s Atelier relates to a very different iconographic tradition than that of Visscher’s engraving, one that stems from the animal’s reputation for extraordinary vision. This attribute was often exploited by late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century artists in their depictions of the Allegory of Sight (Visus). An engraving from 1595, Sense of Sight by Jan Saenredam (1565–1607) after a design by Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617), shows a cat, possibly an exotic lynx, looking out at the viewer, while a woman wearing a plunging décolleté admires herself in the mirror as her suitor embraces her and gazes wantonly at her bosom (). This aspect of sight is further expressed by the poignant gaze of the feline crouching next to Adam and Eve in Hendrick Golztius’s Fall of Man in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (). Reinterpreted here with the familiarity and immediacy of daily life, Dou emphasizes the cat as the embodiment of sight by highlighting its intense gaze and alert demeanor.

As in many of his other niche scenes, Dou also includes a scene in the deep recesses of the background that enhances the painting’s iconographic meaning. Here one sees an artist painting at his easel. Although Dou often included easels in the backgrounds of his paintings, nowhere else does he depict an artist actively engaged in painting. Near the artist is a violin resting on a table, a reference to the parallels that exist between a musician and a painter, both of whom use the imagination to create their works of art.

The prominent red curtain, beautifully depicted with subtle violet highlights shimmering in the cascading of light across the iridescent fabric, also relates to the painting’s underlying concern for the interrelationship of illusion and reality. The depiction of such a dazzling curtain evokes the famous story from classical antiquity of Parrhasius, whose painting of a curtain was depicted in such a lifelike manner that it fooled his artistic rival, Zeuxis, who asked that it be pulled aside to reveal the supposedly-concealed painting beneath it. The story of artistic rivalry was retold by seventeenth-century art theorists such as Karel van Mander (1548–1606) in his Schilder-Boeck (1604) and by Phillips Angel (ca. 1618–62) in his Praise of Painting (1642). Dou explicitly referenced the anecdote in Painter with a Pipe and Book from ca. 1645 in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (). Dou was often praised for his convincing illusionism by contemporaries like the poet Dirck Traudenius, who referred to Dou in 1662 as the “Dutch Parrhasius.”

The question remains as to why Dou turned his iconographic focus from a figural group involving a cat, a mousetrap, and young woman to a simplified scene of a cat alone within an architectural niche. The iconography of the cat and mousetrap was relatively novel in genre painting in the 1650s, and with his initial layout of the composition, Dou may have intended to explore the symbolism of love’s entrapment. The earlier compositional idea relates to paintings Dou made somewhat earlier in the 1650s, such as Kitchen Scene in Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst, or The Mousetrap in Montpellier, Musée Fabre (). Dou’s final image emphasizing the cat’s sense of sight was an innovative way of reinterpreting this pictorial tradition to relate this theme to the status of the artist.

The present work is one of three known paintings by Dou featuring animals. King Augustus II acquired Cat Crouching on the Ledge of an Artist’s Atelier in the early eighteenth century for the imperial house collections of the Royal Palace in Dresden, where it remained, with nineteen other autograph paintings by Dou, until the third decade of the twentieth century. In the 1920s the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden de-accessioned the painting, and handed the work over to the former Royal House of Wettin as part of a group of restituted artworks from the State of Saxony. It was subsequently acquired by a private collector in Germany. It remained in that collection until 2006, when it was acquired by the Leiden Collection.

- Dominique Surh
  • Art market, Antwerp; [to Raschke, First Commissioner for King Augustus II].
  • King Augustus II (1670–1733), Royal House Collections, Dresden, by 1722; Collection of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, by 1817; restituted to the House of Wettin, 1924; [P. Rusch, Dresden, 1927].
  • Private Collection, Rheinland (sale, Lempertz, Cologne, 20 May 2006, no. 1040 [Johnny van Haeften, Ltd., London, 2006]).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2006.
  • Oxford, Ashmolean Museum of Art, on loan with the permanent collection, December 2009–January 2011 [lent by the present owner].
  • Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Dutch Treat,” 11 October 2011–6 January 2012 [lent by the present owner].
  • Leiden, Museum de Lakenhal, “Gerrit Dou: The Leiden Collection from New York,” 9 March–31 August 2014 [lent by the present owner].
  • Ithaca, Cornell University, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, “An Eye For Detail: Dutch Painting From The Leiden Collection,” September 2014–May 2015 [lent by the present owner].
  • Paris, Museé du Louvre, “Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt,” 22 February–22 May 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Beijing, National Museum of China, “Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 17 June–3 September 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund, “Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 23 September 2017–25 February 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 28 March 2018–22 July 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 5 September 2018–13 January 2019 [lent by the present owner].
  • Hübner, Julius. Verzeichniss der Königlichen Gemälde-Gallerie zu Dresden. Dresden, 1856, 229, no. 1077.
  • Schäfer, Wilhem. Die Könligliche Gemälde-Gallerie zu Dresden zur Erleichterung eingehender Studien in der Geschickte der Malerei und deren Kunstkritik / Allen Jüngern und Freunden der Kunst nach der Ordnung der Räume beschreibend und erläuternd vorgefürht und mit einem resumirenden Verzeichnisse der Maler begleitet. 2 vols. Dresden, 1859, 2:672–73, no. 1077.
  • Hübner, Julius. Catalogue de la Galerie Royale de Dresden. Dresden, 1867, 279, no. 1135.
  • Gower, Lord Ronald. The Figure Painters of Holland. London, 1880, 94.
  • Hübner, Julius. Catalogue of the Royal Picture Gallery in Dresden. Dresden, 1884, 269, no. 1230.
  • Woermann, Karl. Catalogue of the Royal Picture Gallery in Dresden. 3rd ed. Dresden, 1896, 185, no. 1705. Originally published as Katalog der Königlichen Gemäldegalerie zu Dresden, Dresden, 1896, 180, no. 1705.
  • Woermann, Karl. Catalogue of the Royal Picture Gallery in Dresden. 4th ed. Dresden 1899, 185, no. 1705. Originally published as Katalog der Königlichen Gemäldegalerie zu Dresden, Dresden, 1899, 554, no. 1705.
  • Martin, Wilhelm. Het leven en de werken van Gerrit Dou. Leiden, 1901, 244, no. 362.
  • Martin, Wilhelm. Gerard Dou. Translated by Clara Bell. London, 1902, 127, no. 123.
  • Woermann, Karl. Catalogue of the Royal Picture Gallery in Dresden. 5th ed. Dresden, 1902, 185, no. 1705. Originally published as Katalog der Köninglichen Gemäldegalerie zu Dresden, Dresden, 1902, 550, no. 1705.
  • Woermann, Karl. Catalogue of the Royal Picture Gallery in Dresden. 6th ed. Dresden, 1905, 186, no. 1705.
  • Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century Based on the Work of John Smith. Edited and translated by Edward G. Hawke,  1:461, no. 381. 8 vols. London, 1907–28. Originally published as Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten höllandischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907–28.
  • Woermann, Karl. Catalogue of the Royal Picture Gallery at Dresden. 7th ed. Dresden, 1908, 182, no. 1705.
  • Von Wurzbach, Alfred. Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon:Auf Grund Archivalischer  Forschungen Bearbeitet. 3 vols. Vienna and Liepzig, 1906–11, 418.
  • Martin, Wilhelm. Gerard Dou, sa vie et son oeuvre. Etude sur la peinture hollandaise et les marchaunds au dix septième siècle. Paris, 1911, 197, no. 210.
  • Woermann, Karl. Catalogue of the Pictures in the Royal Gallery at Dresden. 8th ed. Dresden, 1912, 181, no. 1705. Originally published as Katalog der Königlichen Gemäldegalerie zu Dresden. Dresden, 1912, 169, no. 1705.
  • Martin, Wilhelm. Gerard Dou, des Meisters Gemälde in 247 Abbildungen. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 24. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1913, 143.
  • Katalog der Königlichen Gemäldegalerie zu Dresden. 9th ed. Dresden, 1916, 173, no. 1705.
  • Katalog der Staatlichen Gemäldegalerie zu Dresden. 10th ed. Dresden, 1920, 178, no. 1705.
  • Sächsisches Gesetzblatt. Gesetz über die Auseindandersetzung zwischen dem Freistaate Sachsen und dem vormaligen Köningshause. Dresden, 9 August 1924, no. 37.
  • Baer, Ronni. “The Paintings of Gerrit Dou (1613–1675).” 3 vols. PhD diss. New York University, 1990, Appendix A: Untraced Works of Undetermined Attribution.
  • Laabs, Annegret, and Christoph Schölzel. The Leiden fijnschilders from Dresden. Edited   by Christiaan Vogelaar, 127. Exh. cat. Leiden, Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal.    Zwolle, 2000.
  • Kuretsky, Susan Donahue. “Rembrandt’s Cat.” In Aemulatio Imitation, Emulation and Invention in Netherlandish Art from 1500 to 1800: Essays in Honor of Eric Jan Sluijter. Edited by Anton W. A. Boschloo, Jacquelyn N. Coutré, Stephanie S. Dickey, and Nicolette C. Sluijter-Seijffert, 263–76.  Zwolle, 2011.
  • Baer, Ronni. “Of Cats and Dogs: Domestic Pets in Rembrandt and Dou.” Een Kroniek voor Jeroen Giltaij: Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis. (2012): 62–69.
  • Surh, Dominique, Ilona van Tuinen, and John Twilley. “Insights from Technical Analysis on a Group of Paintings by Gerrit Dou in the Leiden Collection.” JHNA 6:1 (Winter 2014): 2-4, 12, 21, 24-26, figs. 7a-b, 56, 68a-b, 71a-b, 72 a-b. DOI:10.5092/jhna.2014.6.1.3.
  • Surh, Dominique.  “Cat Crouching on the Ledge of an Artist’s Atelier.” In Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt. Edited by Blaise Ducos and Dominique Surh, 68, no. 24. Exh. cat. Paris, Museé du Louvre. Paris, 2017. Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Cat Crouching on the Ledge of an Artist’s Atelier.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 80; 179, no. 30. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China. Beijing, 2017.
  • Long Museum, West Bund. Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Exh. cat. Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund. Shanghai, 2017, 96–97.
  • Bijl, Martin. “Gerrit Dou as a Pupil of Rembrandt.” In Rembrandt and his Circle: Insights and Discoveries. Edited by Stephanie S. Dickey, 187, n. 49. Amsterdam, 2017.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “The Leiden Collection and the Dutch Golden Age.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 24; 32. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Cat Crouching on the Ledge of an Artist’s Atelier.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 88–89; 233, no. 11. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.

The support is a vertically grained panel made from a single oak plank of Baltic origin. The wood comes from a tree felled after 1588. The panel is beveled only on the right edge, as viewed from reverse. There are four overlapping circles inscribed in the reverse of the panel in the lower quarter. The center of each is marked with a compass point. According to Ian Tyers’ Dendochronological report, the presence of these “partial ‘daisy-wheel’ apotropaeic mark[s] scratched on the back of the board…both strongly suggests that it has been cut down, and also that it is a re-used board, possibly originating from room paneling.”

The panel was prepared with a light colored ground. It is radio-opaque, indicating it contains a dense pigment such as lead white, and it accentuates the wood grain in the X-radiograph. The paint was built up in thin layers of light over dark.  Infrared reflectography  and the x-radiograph show numerous compositional changes, which may be indicative of an entirely different composition. Originally a young woman was depicted leaning forward in the lower right corner of the painting. Her proper right arm was bent as if she was pouring something. Just below this figure was a rectangular shape that may have been a mousetrap. In addition, there was a curtain on the left side of the composition and a round shape, which may have been a globe, can be seen vertically centered on the left. Also, the arch of the niche was originally taller and broader, extending beyond the edge of the panel on the top and the right. This is further indication that the panel was originally larger.

The painting is in good condition. There are drying cracks in the dark brown shadows and there are a few areas of slightly raised paint. There are small protrusions and related craters throughout the paint. The painting was treated in 2006.

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