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Boy with a Mousetrap by Candlelight

Dominicus van Tol (Bodegraven? ca. 1635 – 1676 Leiden)
ca. 1664–65
oil on panel
30 x 23.3 cm
inventory number

Aono, Junko. “Boy with a Mousetrap by Candlelight” (2017). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 4th ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Elizabeth Nogrady with Caroline Van Cauwenberge. New York, 2023–. (accessed July 13, 2024).

In the corner of a dark wine cellar, a boy smiles as he proudly raises a wooden trap to show the viewer the mouse he has just captured. His candle’s flame illuminates his excited face and the objects around him while casting shadows onto the floor and walls. The differences in the delicate rendering of brightly lit elements—the boy’s face, hair, white collar, and the foreground still life motifs—and the freely brushed shadows simulate the effects of flickering candlelight.

The high quality of this small panel, as well as its charming details and distinctive chiaroscuro effects, explains why it has been traditionally attributed to Gerrit Dou (1613–75), Dominicus van Tol’s uncle and teacher. Indeed, the painting has been attributed to Dou, who was known for his virtuoso technique in the rendering of candlelit scenes throughout its recorded history, dating back to 1739, when it appeared in an Amsterdam auction. Only in 1990, when Ronni Baer rejected the attribution to Dou, was the painting correctly associated with Dominicus van Tol. In particular, this work closely resembles two other pictures by Van Tol: one with a similar subject, Children with a Mousetrap in the Rijksmuseum () and Children at a Window Blowing Bubbles in The Leiden Collection (). Not only are the facial features and clothing of the boys in these three pictures similar, but also the manner in which Van Tol modeled their forms.

An anonymous biographer from the second half of the eighteenth century noted that Van Tol owed much to Dou’s artistry: “In our view, he came most close to his uncle’s manner and adhered to it.”  Van Tol often adapted Dou’s motifs and subjects in his own works—sometimes, as in this instance, coming very close to the style of his master. Here, for example, he placed his scene within an illusionistically painted stone window, a pictorial device Dou frequently used. Although Van Tol’s painterly technique is generally somewhat broader than that of Dou, in this painting he adopted a refined style to emulate his master. Van Tol’s subject also relates to a number of Dou’s works, including Wine Cellar () of ca. 1660. Dou’s painting, depicting lovers surreptitiously meeting in a dimly-lit cellar illuminated by a lantern and candle, includes still-life motifs similar to those in Boy with a Mousetrap by Candlelight, including a mousetrap, a wooden barrel, a head of cabbage and a milk jug. Also important for Van Tol’s pictorial concept are two paintings by Dou that depict a young boy, with a similarly round face and curly blond hair, holding a mousetrap: Mousetrap, ca. 1650, and another work known today only from a mezzotint by Nicolaas Verkolje (1673–1746). Van Tol’s picture is not dated, yet dendrochronological analysis of the panel and the above mentioned similarity with Dou’s Wine Cellar point to a plausible date around 1664–65.

Depictions of a boy with a mousetrap enjoyed great popularity among Dutch painters of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, including Quiringh Gerritsz. van Brekelenkam (1622/29–69/79), Eglon van der Neer (1635/36–1703), Adriaen van der Werff (1659–1722), and Louis de Moni (1698–1771). At first glance the subject appears to be a portrayal of everyday life, but the motif of the mousetrap could also convey an amorous message. For instance, in Dou’s Wine Cellar, the flirtatious interaction of the young couple in a dark cellar combined with the presence of wine may indicate that the mousetrap alludes to love’s sweet slavery or the entrapment of love, a connotation found in contemporary emblem books and proverbs. One of Jacob Cat’s emblems in Sinne- en minnebeelden (1627) illustrates a mouse caught in a trap and warns that those who are greedy in love fall prey to the object of their desire. Daniel Heinsius, in an emblem in his Emblemata Amatoria (Leiden, ca. 1621), also compares a man who cannot live without love to a mouse, with no viable choice between a trap and a cat ().

Although love’s seduction is not explicitly depicted in Van Tol’s painting, the intimate atmosphere of the dark cellar and the presence of the wine barrel and the fowl, both of which had strong sexual associations, suggest that the mousetrap alludes to love’s captivity. Even the smiling boy displaying the mousetrap may serve to communicate the dangers of love to innocent youths.

Van Tol’s stylistic and iconographic dependence on Dou’s work indicates that he was intimately familiar with the master’s paintings when he created this scene. Since Van Tol became a member of the Leiden Guild of Saint Luke in 1664 at the relatively advanced age of 29, it is presumed that he had previously worked as an assistant in the studio of his uncle and would have remained close to him before he left Leiden for Utrecht in 1669. This close connection to Dou might explain why the picture has certain qualities strongly reminiscent of the master’s work, as well as its subsequent long-standing attribution to him.

Although we have no certain knowledge about Dou’s studio practice and his collaboration with his pupils, a group of paintings by different hands reflecting the master’s style suggest that he had a number of apprentices and students in his studio. As is the case with the current picture, their pictures were sometimes sold later as authentic works by the master, as noted by the eighteenth-century anonymous biographer mentioned above. When writing about Jan Adriaensz. van Staveren (1614–69), another pupil of Dou, he notes that “art dealers have long been buying up the most and best work [by Van Staveren], together with other paintings by different pupils of Gerard Dou, and selling these as paintings by Dou in foreign countries.” The attribution of the Leiden Collection picture to Dou was repeatedly authorized by art dealers like Willem Lormier, the most prominent dealer of the eighteenth century. After Lormier’s death in 1763, the painting was sold at auction and fetched 1,000 guilders—five times more than what he had originally paid only two decades earlier.

- Junko Aono, 2017
For further discussion about this artwork, see Leiden Fijnschilders and the Local Art Market in the Golden Age.
  • (Sale, Amsterdam, 21 October 1739, no. 26 [for 300 florins], as by Dou).
  • Gerard Block (?) (his sale, The Hague, 25 February 1744, no. 1 [200 florins to W. Lormier; to Frank for 525 florins, 4 June 1756], as by Dou).
  • Jan Willem Frank, The Hague [to Lormier, 9 March 1758 (his sale, The Hague, 4 July 1763, no. 66), 1,000 florins to Voet], as by Dou.
  • (Sale, Amsterdam, 17 April 1783, no. 70, as by Dou).
  • H. A. van den Heuvel (his sale, Utrecht, 27 June 1825, no. 16 [unsold at 1,500 florins], as by Dou); (his sale, Utrecht, 27 April 1827, no. 8 [unsold at 425 florins], as by Dou).
  •  (Sale, C. Kruseman and J. van der Dussen van Zouteveen, Amsterdam, 16 February 1858, no. 21, as by Dou; or possibly no. 320 [41 florins to Glaser], as by Dou)
  • Werner Dahl, Düsseldorf, by 1886 (his sale, Amsterdam, 17 October 1905, no. 39 [6,700 florins to Van Gelder], as by Dou).
  • Possibly Collection Lubelling, by 1929.
  • Hendrik Cornelis van den Honert (1854–1916), Baarn, by 1946; by descent to Magdalena Christiana van den Honert (1899–1979), Baarn/Hilversum (sale, Sotheby’s Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, 22 April 1980, no. 28 [to David Koetser Gallery, Zurich, 1980], as by Dou).
  • Private collection, Germany (sale, Koller, Zurich, 10 September 1998, no. 41 [unsold], as by Dou); [Salomon Lilian B. V., Amsterdam, 2005].
  • From whom acquired by the present owner.
  • Düsseldorf, Kunsthalle, “Bilder von älteren Meistern,” 5 September–7 October 1886, no. 80, as by Dou [lent by Werner Dahl].
  • The Hague, Mauritshuis, on loan with the permanent collection, 1932–after 1973, as by Dou [lent by Hendrik Cornelis van den Honert].
  • Leiden, Museum de Lakenhal, “Gerrit Dou: The Leiden Collection from New York,” 9 March–31 August 2014 [lent by the present owner].
  • Williamstown, The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, “An Inner World: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting,” 5 March–17 September 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Philadelphia, Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania, “An Inner World: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting,” 17 April–25 July 2021, no. 9 [lent by the present owner].
  • Catalogus van schilderyen van den heer agent Willem Lormier in ’s Gravenhage. The Hague, 1752, no. 69 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Hoet, Gerard. Catalogus of Naamlyst van Schilderyen, met derzelver pryzen, zedert een langen reeks van jaaren zoo. 3 vols. The Hague, 1752, 2: 421 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Descamps, Jean Baptiste La vie des peintres flamands, allemands et hollandois: avec des portraits gravés en taille-douce, une indication de leurs principaux ouvrages & des réflexions sur leurs différentes manières. 4 vols. Paris, 1753–64, 224 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. 9 vols. London, 1829–42, 1: 7, no. 15 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Leven, Theodor. Verzeichniss der in der Kunsthalle zu Düsseldorf ausgestellten Bilder von älteren Meisteren. Exh. cat. Düsseldorf, Kunsthalle. Düsseldorf, 1886, 22, no. 80 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Leven, Theodor. “Die Ausstellung von Bildern älterer Meister zu Düsseldorf.” Kunstchronik 22, no. 29 (28 April 1887): 490–91 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Von Bode, Wilhelm. “Die Ausstellungen alter Gemälde aus Privatbesitz in Düsseldorf und Brüssel im Herbst 1886.” Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 10 (1887): 33 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Martin, Wilhelm. “Het leven en de werken van Gerrit Dou.” PhD diss, Universiteit Leiden. Leiden, 1901, 241–42, no. 352 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Martin, Wilhelm. Gerard Dou. Translated from Dutch by Clara Bell. London, 1902, 128, no. 125 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • 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, 1:421, no. 223. 8 vols. London, 1907–28. Originally published as Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907–28 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Martin, Wilhelm. Gerard Dou, sa vie et son oeuvre. Etude sur la peinture hollandaise et les marchaunds au dix septième siècle. Paris, 1911, 208–9, no. 280 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Martin, Wilhelm. Gerard Dou, des Meisters Gemälde in 247 Abbildungen. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamatausgaben 24. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1913, 151 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Martin, Wilhem. “Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen (Mauritshuis).” Verslagen omtrent ’s Rijks Verzamelingen van Geschiedenis en Kunst 1932. LV (1933) 29 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Sumowski, Werner. Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler. 6 vols. Landau and Pfalz, 1983–94, 6:3525, 3534, no. 75 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Baer, Ronni. “The Paintings of Gerrit Dou (1613–1675)”. 3 vols. PhD diss. New York University. New York, 1990, no. C81 (as rejected attribution of Gerrit Dou).
  • Korthals Altes, Everhard. “The eighteenth-century gentleman dealer Willem Lormier and the international dispersal of seventeenth-century Dutch paintings.” Simiolus 28 (2000–01): 267, fig. 17; 309, no. 47 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Korthals Altes, Everhard. De verovering van de internationale kunstmarkt door de zeventiende-eeuwse schilderkunst: enkele studies over de verspreiding van Hollandse schilderijen in de eerste helft van de achttiende eeuw. Leiden, 2003, 76–77, fig. 28; 282, no. 47 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Moqtaderi, Heather. “Introduction: Pulling Back the Curtain.” In An Inner World: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting. Edited by Heather Moqtaderi and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 10, no. 9. Exh. cat. Philadelphia, Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, 2021.

The support, a single plank of vertically grained, rectangular, non-Baltic oak, has bevels on three sides. The panel is unthinned and uncradled and has no machine tool marks. There is one paper label and four label fragments, but no wax collection seals, import stamps or panel maker’s marks.

A light-colored ground has been thinly and evenly applied followed by paint that has been thinly and smoothly applied with no use of impasto. Areas of low brushmarking outline the architectural arch, the figure’s drapery folds, and the jug, bowl, and cabbage along the lower right corner.

No underdrawing is readily apparent in infrared images at 780–1000 nanometers, and no compositional changes are noted aside from the tip of the ring finger of the figure’s proper left hand, which appears to have been extended during the paint stage.

The painting is unsigned and undated.

The painting was cleaned and restored in 2007 and remains in a good state of preservation.

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