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Young Woman in a Niche with a Parrot and Cage

Gerrit Dou (Leiden 1613 – 1675 Leiden)
date
ca. 1660–65
medium
oil on panel
dimensions
24.8 x 18.4 cm
inventory number
GD-105
Currently on view: The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

Surh, Dominique. “Young Woman in a Niche with a Parrot and Cage.” In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. New York.

https://www.theleidencollection.com/archive/ (accessed May 26, 2018).

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In 1665 the distinguished Leiden collector Johan de Bye held an exhibition of twenty-seven paintings by Gerrit Dou, including two works currently in The Leiden Collection: Goat in a Landscape (GD-114) and this delightful genre scene, described in De Bye’s inventory as: “meysge in een venster mit 1 papegaey en koy” (a young girl in a window with one parrot and cage). In this scene, a young woman leans out from behind a simple arched stone niche while holding her pet bird she has taken out of an elaborate metal cage. The girl gazes to our right with an expression of sweet anticipation enlivening her face, as though in the act of showing this rarified beauty to a companion outside of the frame. Obscuring our view into the darkened interior in which she stands is a gathered red curtain hanging from the inner edge of the niche.

The composition is known from a number of versions and copies, of which at least eleven have been recorded. This example, which resurfaced only in 1955, was unknown to early twentieth-century scholars, including Wilhelm Martin and Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, who tentatively identified other versions as Dou’s original. Martin considered a now-lost painting formerly in the Gagarin Collection in St. Petersburg and another version in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva to be autograph. The attribution of the latter work, which was also cautiously accepted by Hofstede de Groot, was later rejected by Ronni Baer, who noted that the signature was false and deemed the work to be a copy after Dou.

Martin and Hofstede de Groot were correct when they questioned whether the versions they knew were the work described in De Bye’s exhibition. Stylistically and technically, however, the present work is characteristic of Dou’s manner from the first half of the 1660s. The master’s versatility and boldness are evident in the overall variety of the brushwork. The modeling of the face is smooth and blended, yet distinct parallel hatching can be seen below the figure’s proper right eye. The folds of the dark red curtain are modeled with short parallel lines that evoke the pattern of twill and the texture of wool (). This distinctive hatching is found often in Dou’s work from the 1660s and is seen, for example, on the back of the clasping hands in Old Man Praying (GD-108(). In both works, the ground shows through in areas around the figures’ hairline and face, and is here particularly visible along the strand of pearls around the lady’s neck.

The manner in which Dou built the paint layers from the ground up, from distant elements to foreground objects, is characteristic of his painting technique. For example, Dou painted the lower portion of the red curtain and the woman’s apron before depicting the birdcage so that the reds would show between the cage’s wires; subsequently he painted the parrot. Similarly, the range of tonalities with which Dou depicted the woman’s hair at her hairline is comparable to techniques observed in his other paintings (see Portrait of a Woman in Profile, GD-110).

A final argument in favor of the painting’s status as the prime version is the anatomically accurate depiction of the parrot perched on the young woman’s index finger. The species is a South American bird known as the blue-fronted Amazon (Amazona aestiva), indigenous to parts of Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina. Its features include a blue and yellow (or white) face with distinctive red feathers at the bend and tip of the wings, while its overall plumage is green (). Dou’s parrot probably appears blue rather than green because of pigment change or the loss of a yellow glaze covering the underlying blue paint through an overly aggressive restoration of the painting. Dou must have based his image on an actual bird in captivity: parrots were often imported to the Netherlands during this period on ships belonging to the Dutch West India Company. Though Dou accurately rendered the parrot’s features, in later versions of this work the bird’s distinctive markings, particularly the red on the feathers at the bend and tip of the wing, are often lacking.

In the seventeenth century, parrots were expensive status symbols, particularly those that survived the long journey from the New World. Associated with luxury, wealth and prestige, they were especially favored pets because of their beautiful songs, exotic shapes, and colorful plumage. Their ability to emulate speech further enhanced their appeal and gave them a reputation for being excellent learners. In his Sinne-en minnebeelden of 1627, Jacob Cats pointed to this virtue in an emblem depicting a parrot in a hanging cage (), with a subtext that reads: “Dwanck, leert sanck” (Discipline teaches speech). The accompanying text describes the bird in captivity as a symbol for the discipline and education that are necessary for an adult to lead an honorable and refined life.

Parrots became popular motifs in high-style Dutch genre painting, particularly beginning in the 1660s. One well-known example is Frans van Mieris’s Young Woman Feeding a Parrot (FM-112) from about 1663 in the present collection, in which a young woman is shown feeding her pet bird while pausing from her sewing. Here the parrot has been interpreted as a symbol for the eagerness to learn, while the woman’s needlework refers to her domestic virtues of diligence and industry.

The symbolism of birds and birdcages in genre scenes often had amorous and/or erotic connotations, sometimes subtle and sometimes not. For example, Cats’s emblem cited above offers an additional reading where the encaged bird is seen as a metaphor for love’s sweet entrapment: “Bly, door slaverny” (Joy through captivity). This same symbolism is found in Daniel Heinsius’s emblem, which makes use of the Petrarchian motto “Perch’io stesso mi strinsi” (For I have bound myself) and illustrates a recumbent cupid observing the sight of birds willingly flying into a cage (). Another closely related tradition is the symbolism of a bird freed from its cage, often represented by an amorous couple who entice a bird out of its cage with a bite of food, or by a female whose bird has just escaped captivity. In both cases, this emblematic image was understood to refer to lost virginity and the loss of innocence.

In light of the varied symbolic meanings associated with a bird and its cage, this work would undoubtedly have amused viewers with its ambiguity. Situated at the threshold of her domestic realm, the young woman has freed her parrot from its cage and, smilingly, presents it to the outside world. She appears unconcerned that in one fleeting instant her beloved bird could fly away, forever lost from her safekeeping. By depicting the very manifestation of the woman’s youthful innocence in this seemingly carefree moment, Dou invites the viewer to complete the story. Caspar Netscher captured this same idea a few years later in his Woman Feeding a Parrot of 1666 (National Gallery of Art, Washington), in which he staged a comparable scene at an arched window (). As opposed to Dou’s young woman, Netscher’s girl has a beguiling glance and a coquettish smile, suggesting that a loss of innocence may have already transpired.

- Dominique Surh
2017
  • Possibly Johan de Bye, Leiden, by 1665.
  • (Sale, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 7 June 1955, no. 34).
  • Private collection, Paris; by descent to a private collector, United States (sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 8 June 2007, no. 212; [Otto Naumann Ltd., New York, 2007]).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2007.
  • Possibly Leiden, front room in the house of Johannes Hannot on the Breestraat, September 1665 [lent by Johan de Bye].
  • 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].
  • Paris, Musée du Louvre, “Vermeer et les maîtres de la peinture de genre / Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry,” 20 February–22 May 2017; Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, 17 June–17 September 2017; Washington, National Gallery of Art, 22 October–21 January 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • Lunsingh Scheurleer, Theodoor Hermann, Cornelia Willemijn Fock, and A. J. van Dissel. Het Rapenburg: Geschiedenis van een Leidse gracht. 10 vols. Leiden, 1986–92, 3b:486, no. 17.
  • Martin, Wilhelm. Gerard Dou. Translated from Dutch by Clara Bell. London, 1902. 145– 46, no. 17.
  • Wieseman, Marjorie E. Caspar Netscher and Late Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting. Doornspijk, 2002. 68, no. 65.
  • Surh, Dominique, Ilona van Tuinen, John Twilley. “Insights from Technical Analysis on a Group of Paintings by Gerrit Dou in the Leiden Collection. JHNA 6 no. 1 (Winter 2014): 2-3, 12, 18-19, figs. 9a-b, 31, 47, 51. DOI:10.5092/jhna.2014.6.1.3.
  • Waiboer, Adriaan. “Les Perroquets.” In Vermeer et les maîtres de la peinture de genre. Edited by Adriaan E. Waiboer, Blaise Ducos, and Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., 316, 318, cat. no. 49. Exh. cat. Paris, Louvre Museum; Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland; Washington, D. C., National Gallery of Art. Paris, 2017.
  • Waiboer, Adriaan. “Birds of a Feather.”  In Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry. Edited by Adriaan E. Waiboer, Blaise Ducos, and Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., 184-85, 242, cat. no. 131.1. Exh. cat. Paris, Louvre Museum; Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art. New Haven and London, 2017.
  • Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting. Exh. brochure. Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 2017, fig. 3.
  • 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, 25; 33. 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.
  • McCarthy, Alexa. “Young Woman in a Niche with a Parrot and Cage.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 92–93; 234, no. 13. 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 oak panel made from one board from a tree with a presumed fell date after 1587. The grain is slightly skewed to the vertical axis. There are some irregular notches or gauges around the outer edges and there is a peg-hole on the left side of the reverse, indicating that the panel may have been reused timber or cut down from a larger panel. The top of the panel is arched, following the shape of the painted niche in the composition. There are no bevels on the reverse, but the panel has not been thinned.

Dou prepared the panel with a thin, light ground, which does not obscure the texture of the woodgrain. It can be seen around the edges of the panel and through the young woman’s thinly painted apron. The ground is radio-opaque, highlighting the pattern of the woodgrain in the X-radiographs and indicating that it may contain a lead-based pigment.

The paint was thinly and smoothly applied. The paint of the curtain is slightly raised in comparison to that of the sitter’s hand, indicating the hand was painted first. The bars of the birdcage were painted on top of the sitter’s apron, and the red curtain and the parrot were painted on top of the birdcage.

The X-radiograph shows that the woman was originally painted with a broader smile, and her proper right eye originally gazed upward. The X-radiograph also shows some undefined shapes in the area of the curtain, indicating a compositional change in this area. Infrared photography at 780, 850, and 1000 nm indicates that the fingers of the woman’s hand holding the parrot were originally more curled.

The painting is in excellent condition. The panel bears a slight convex warp when viewed from the front and there is a small vertical split extending 3.8 cm down from the right side of the rounded edge. There are paint losses along the edges of the panel and there is damage along the edge near the bottom right corner. The paint has become slightly transparent with age, especially in the sitter’s face and arm. It was treated in 2007–8.

Versions and Copies

  1. Attributed to Gerrit Dou, Young Girl with a Parrot, oil on panel, rounded top, 15.5 x 18 cm, whereabouts unknown. Wilhelm Martin, Het Leven en de Werken van Gerrit Dou (Leiden, 1901), 234; Exhibition of Old Masters (Exh. cat. St. Petersburg, 1909), no. 319; P. P. Weiner, Les anciennes écoles de peinture dans les palais et collections priveés russes (Exh. cat. Brussels) (Brussels, 1910), 93, no. 319; Wilhelm Martin, Gerard Dou, des Meisters Gemälde, Klassiker der Kunst (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1913), no. 111; Ronni Baer, “The Paintings of Gerrit Dou (1613–1675),” 3 vols. (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1990), Appendix A, under “Untraced Works.” Previously N. Gagarin Collection, St. Petersburg [N. Beets, 1930, no. 39, but with rectangular panel, 22 x 16 cm].
  2. After Gerrit Dou (?), Woman with a Parrot, signed “GDouw” lower left side, oil on panel, rounded top, 24.5 x 19 cm, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva, inv. no. 1932-12. Arti et Amicitiae (Exh. cat. Amsterdam, 1872); Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century Based on the Work of John Smith, 8 vols. (London, 1907–27), translated from Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten höllandischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts, 10 vols. (Esslingen and Paris, 1907–28), 1:400, no. 161; Wilhelm Martin, Het Leven en de Werken van Gerrit Dou (Leiden, 1901), no. 234; Wilhelm Martin, Gerard Dou, trans. Clara Bell (London, 1902), no. 161; Wilhelm Martin, Gerard Dou, sa vie et son oeuvre: Étude sur la peinture hollandaise et les marchands au dix-septième siècle (Paris, 1911), 182, no. 117; Wilhelm Martin, Gerard Dou, des Meisters Gemälde, Klassiker der Kunst (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1913), 112; Geneva Museum collection catalogue, 1948, no. 24; Ronni Baer, “The Paintings of Gerrit Dou (1613–1675),” 3 vols. (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1990), Catalogue C, “Works of rejected attribution,” no. C71. Previously (sale, Blondel de Gagny, Paris, 10 December 1776, no. 105; sale, Blondel d’Azincourt, Paris, 10 February 1783, no. 21; sale, Jacques Antoine van Dam, Dordrecht, 1 June 1829, no. 32; sale, P. J. and B. van der Meulen, de Coblence, Amsterdam, 22 August 1850, no. 15); [Arti et Amicitiae, 1872]; Crommelin Collection, Driebergen; (sale, Van Gogh, Amsterdam, 25 November 1913, no. 340); Smidt van Gelder, 1931; from whom bequeathed to the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva.
  3. After Gerrit Dou, Young Girl with a Parrot, oil on rectangular panel, 21.7 x 18.4 cm, whereabouts unknown. Tentoonstelling (Exh. cat. Gemeente Museum, Arnhem, 1960–61), no. 13; Catalogus Schilderijen- aquarellen en etsen, verzameling B. de Geus van den Heuvel (Amsterdam, 1963), no. 13. Previously F. J. ten Bos, Almelo (sale, Paul Brandt, Amsterdam, 1959, no. 5; sale, Sotheby’s Amsterdam, 26–27 April 1976); B. de Geus van den Heuvel, Nieuwersluis, 1963.
  4. After Gerrit Dou, A Young Girl with a Parrot, signed “GDouw” lower left side, oil on panel, rounded top, dimensions unknown, whereabouts unknown, possibly equivalent with Version 3, above.
  5. After Gerrit Dou, Woman with a Parrot, oil on panel, 24 x 18.5 cm, whereabouts unknown. Catalogus van de Collectie Goudstikker (1917), no. 19; Catalogus van de Collectie Goudstikker (1919), no. 25. Previously E. R. Glückstatt, Copenhagen [Jacques Goudstikker, Amsterdam, 1917–19].
  6. After Gerrit Dou, A Woman with a Parrot, oil on panel, 24.1 x 18.4 cm, whereabouts unknown. Previously (sale, Phillips, September 1965, no. 28).
  7. After Gerrit Dou, Young Girl with a Parrot, oil on panel, 25 x 19.5 cm, whereabouts unknown. Previously (sale, Brussels, Trussart, 19 November 1956, no. 29).
  8. Possibly Dominicus van Tol, after Gerrit Dou, Young Girl with a Parrot, oil on panel, 26 x 18.5 cm, whereabouts unknown. Previously E. Burg-Berger, Weenen, 1935.
  9. Pieter van Slingeland, after Gerrit Dou, A Young Girl with a Parrot, oil on panel, 22.5 x 16.5 cm, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, inv. no. KMSsp454. Two Golden Ages: Masterpieces of Dutch and Danish Painting (Zwolle, 2001), 176, no. 70.
  10. Attributed to Gerrit Dou, A Girl with a Parrot Cage at a Window, oil on panel, 36.5 x 29.8 cm, The John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia, inv. no. 432.
  11. After Gerrit Dou, A Young Girl with a Parrot, oil on panel, support and dimensions unknown, whereabouts unknown. Previously Dr. L. Weiler, Strasbourg 1963.
  12. After Gerrit Dou, A Girl at a Window with a Parrot, oil on panel, 22.9 x 17.8 cm, possibly equivalent with another version. British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom (Exh. cat. London, Pall Mall, 1854 and 1867). Previously Samuel Wheeler, Esq., London, 1854–67; (sale, Christie, Mason & Woods, London, 7 July 1900, no. 80).
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