Gerbrand van den Eeckhout was baptized in Amsterdam on 22 August 1621. His parents were the goldsmith Jan Pieters van den Eeckhout and Grietje Claes Leydeckers.1 Gerbrand’s father was born in 1583 in Harlingen (in the province of Friesland), but was not Frisian. His father Pieter Lodewijcks (b. 1544), a Mennonite peddler, came from Brussels, from which he had fled for religious reasons. After temporary sojourns in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Harlingen, where Pieter married Marritge Jans van Winterswijk, he ultimately acquired citizenship in Amsterdam in 1588. Five years later, Gerbrand’s father and the latter’s elder brother Lodewijck were both baptized as Protestants.
In 1612 Jan Pieters bought two buildings on the Kalverstraat. He turned them into a single residence called ’t Vliegend Paert, which was home to three generations of the family. Gerbrand, who never married, may have lived there well into adulthood, for he gave the Kalverstraat as his address in documents up to 1662.2 This is also the address where his father was taxed for assets worth 4000 guilders in 1631, indicating that the family’s circumstances were modest in these years.
Jan Pieters’s affluence and social standing grew substantially when, in 1633, two years after the death of Grietje, he took a second wife, namely Cornelia Dedel (1594–1660) from Delft. Her parents were Willem Dedel and Ida van der Dussen, the daughter of a well-to-do brewer. Dedel—himself a brewer in Delft and a director of the Dutch East India Company—was affluent, and as the son of a Leiden draper and burgomaster, belonged to the local patriciate. His brother-in-law was Isaac Claesz van Swanenburg (1537–1614), the famous Leiden portrait painter and burgomaster, and father of Rembrandt’s first teacher.3
According to Houbraken, Van den Eeckhout was “a pupil of Rembrandt van Rijn.”4 He would have gone to study under him at the age of fourteen.5 He painted his earliest work in 1640.6 This usually suggests independence, but given his young age, it is unlikely that he already had his own studio. Upon finishing his training, he may have stayed on for a while with his master, enjoying a privileged position. Perhaps he worked side by side with Ferdinand Bol (1616–80) in Rembrandt’s workshop, as his early paintings display a great similarity with works by Bol.7 Whatever his position, Van den Eeckhout must have been on good terms with his master, for in his biography of Roelant Roghman (1627–92), Houbraken noted that Roghman “along with Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, [was] a great friend of Rembrandt van Rijn in his time.”8 That Roghman and Van den Eeckhout were good friends emerges from the will that the latter executed in 1674, in which he calls Roghman “an old acquaintance” and remembers him with 50 guilders.9
Van den Eeckhout was an exceptionally productive and versatile artist. About two hundred paintings have been attributed to him, along with countless drawings, etchings, book illustrations, and—doubtless inspired by his father’s profession—pattern books for gold- and silversmiths. He painted primarily history scenes, generally of biblical subjects, as well as portraits. His treatment of light and his handling of paint in these portraits recall Rembrandt, but in terms of composition he followed the prevailing fashion. Many commissions came from his immediate surroundings, such as the portraits of his stepmother, Cornelia Dedel (1644), and of his father (1644, 1651), among others.10 In addition, in 1657 and 1673 he portrayed the officers of the Coopers and Wine Rackers’ Guild; the former commission would have come via his brother Jan, who was a wine merchant.11
Van den Eeckhout was a history and portrait painter, but from the early 1650s he also acquitted himself well as a genre painter. This turn was no doubt dictated by the deteriorating market, which led to increasingly fierce competition and spurred artists to pursue new avenues.12 If he was a follower as a history and portrait painter, he proved to be an innovator as a genre painter. His guardroom scenes from 1651 onward are still indebted to other artists, such as Anthonie Palamedesz (1601-73), but Van den Eeckhout’s depictions of elegant companies disporting themselves on terraces or in elegant interiors were ahead of their time.
In addition to Rembrandt and Roghman, Van den Eeckhout was also acquainted with the landscape painter Willem Schellinks (1626–78), the poet David Questiers (1623–63), and the bookseller Hieronymus Sweerts (1629–96). They all loved poetry and exchanged poems they had penned themselves.13 Moreover, he was in touch with the well-known rector Jacob Heyblock (1620–90), making several contributions to his famous Album Amicorum. For instance, in 1654 Van den Eeckhout wrote some lines of verse for a fine drawing he had made of Hermes and Argus, and next to an Ysvermaakje (scene of amusement on the ice) drawn by Jan van de Cappelle (1626–79). In these lines Van den Eeckhout honored that artist “who had taught himself to paint of his own volition”14 and whom he had portrayed one year earlier.15
During the last years of his life, Van den Eeckhout lived with Maria van Schilperoort, the widow of his brother Jan, on the elegant Herengracht (nowadays number 525), close to the Vijzelstraat.16 In September 1674 he fell seriously ill and drew up his will. To his sister Ida he left “a picture painted by him, the testator, and already hanging in her house,” and to his sister Margaretha “a picture equal in worth to the one he bequeathed to his sister Ida, to be taken from the works he will leave behind and which will be assessed by someone who is knowledgeable about paintings.” To his nephew/cousin and godchild, Gerbrand, he bequeathed “all of his art on paper and works in clay, consisting of prints, drawings, and sculpted figures and animals, so that he might enjoy the proceeds he will gain by putting them up for auction.”17 Van den Eeckhout died a few days later, and was taken from the Herengracht to the Oudezijds Kapel to be buried in the family grave on 26 September 1674.