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Portrait of a Woman in Profile

Gerrit Dou (Leiden 1613 – 1675 Leiden)
ca. 1635–40
oil on panel
13.3 x 11.3 cm
signed information

signed in dark paint along left midpoint of oval: “GDou”

inventory number

Surh, Dominique. “Portrait of a Woman in Profile” (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 June 13, 2024).

This profile portrait of an attractive young woman with wisps of wavy brown hair curling over her forehead is one in a series of small, bust-length studies that Gerrit Dou painted in an oval format between 1635 and 1640. Comparable paintings by the artist include his Portrait Bust of a Youth from ca. 1635 in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (), and Portrait of a Young Woman from ca. 1635–40 in the Manchester City Art Galleries. All three works are similar in scale and format, and situate a delicately rendered sitter against a loosely brushed background. This unknown female sitter is portrayed in a fur-trimmed jacket of the type worn by ladies in the middle class, and is shown without a formal ruff or other collar. She wears a simple embroidered silk undercap, called blackwork, with a scrolling foliage pattern typical of the 1630s, but not the intricate lace coif of the type that would have normally been worn over it. This manner of dress indicates a degree of informality and suggests that she may have been a relative or close personal acquaintance of the artist. Given her orientation facing left, it is possible that Dou originally paired her with a now-lost male pendant.

The woman’s unusual “earring” further situates her fashion to the 1630s. This type of ornament is not attached to her ear, but is part of her headdress. It actually hangs from the tips of her ear-iron (oorijzer), which holds her undercap in place. Marieke de Winkel has found mention of similar such ornaments, consisting of crescent moons and a small pendant pearl or crystal, in inventories of women who were deceased in the 1640s but married in the 1630s, when they likely purchased these fashionable items.

In Dou’s portrait, a bright light illuminates the sitter’s glowing complexion, rosy lips and high-collared white shirt. The artist’s close observation of light is evident in the way the shirt casts a bluish-white reflection on the underside of the woman’s chin. Dou’s painterly virtuosity is particularly apparent in the smooth and delicate rendering of the sitter’s facial features, where his individualized brushstrokes are virtually imperceptible. Dou had an extraordinary capacity to balance areas of minute detail with more broadly painted passages. Here, for example, he allowed the ocher ground to provide a base color for the sitter’s hair by painting the hair follicles with overlapping strokes of transparent paint. The range of his brushwork is evident in the freely rendered curly wisps of hair that fall along her temples, where some single follicles are also incised in the same color of her flesh tone (). These wavy strokes contrast with the carefully brushed parallel hatchings that model both her temple and her eyebrow in virtually indistinguishable tones of color. Dou painted the semi-translucent bonnet with loosely brushed strokes that vary in rhythm and thickness, carefully allowing the faintly perceptible shape of the lady’s ear to read through the embroidered undercap’s delicate form. Finally, painting wet-into-wet, Dou softened the edges of the fur cloak by dragging his brush back and forth over the whites of the woman’s shirt ().

Despite Dou’s careful manner of painting to model his forms and create a range of textures, he often adjusted his compositions during the pictorial process. In this instance, he shifted the sitter’s profile slightly to the right, a change that is apparent with the naked eye and also through infrared reflectography. This change is particularly evident along the sitter’s forehead, suggesting that she may initially have directed her gaze slightly lower than in the final orientation.

An intriguing feature of this small portrait is the construction of its panel support, where the painted oval panel is set into a larger rectangular one. The reasons for this construction are unclear, but other examples of such inserted panels are known by Dou and other Leiden painters. In the case of the present Portrait of a Woman in Profile, the dendrochronology of the outer rectangular panel dates from the 1660s–70s, which suggests that it was later adapted to a larger format.

Three unidentified red wax seals on the reverse reference the painting’s unknown eighteenth- and nineteenth-century owners (). The provenance is documented only as far back as 1914, when the work formed part of the renowned Marcus Kappel collection in Berlin (). Acquired by descent during the third decade of the twentieth century, the pocket-sized Dou painting made its way to England with Henry T. Rathenau, who escaped Berlin during World War II. The little Dou was kept in a bank vault in England up until 1997, when Rathenau’s last heir, his sister Ellen Ettlinger, passed away.

- Dominique Surh, 2017
  • Marcus Kappel, Berlin, 1914; by descent to Henry T. Rathenau, Berlin; by descent to his sister, Ellen Ettlinger, Oxford, England, until 1997 [to Otto Naumann Ltd. and John Hoogsteder].
  • [Otto Naumann Ltd., New York and John Hoogsteder, The Hague (to Noortman Gallery).]
  • [Noortman Gallery, Maastricht and Salomon Lilian, Amsterdam (through Derek Johns Ltd., London,).]
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2003.
  • Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, on loan with the permanent collection, before 1940 (inv. no. 1173, label on verso).
  • Washington, National Gallery of Art, “Gerrit Dou, 1613–1675: Master Painter in the Age of Rembrandt,” April 16–August 6, 2000; London, Dulwich Picture Gallery,  September 6–November 19, 2000; The Hague, Mauritshuis, December 9, 2000–February 25, 2001, no. 10 [lent by a private collector].
  • 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].
  • Beijing, National Museum of China, “Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces fromThe 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].
  • Baer, Ronni. “Portrait of a Woman.” In Gerrit Dou, 1613–1675: Master Painter in the Age of Rembrandt. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., 82–83, no. 10. Exh. cat. Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; London, Dulwich Picture Gallery; The Hague, Mauritshuis. Zwolle, 2000.
  • Surh, Dominique. “Portrait of a Woman in Profile.” In Salomon Lilian Old Masters. Sales cat. Amsterdam, 2003, 26–27, no. 8.
  • 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): 1, 3, 5, 20–22, figs. 4a–b, 57, 58, 61. DOI:10.5092/jhna.2014.6.1.3.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Portrait of a Woman in Profile.” In  Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 86, no. 33, 180, no. 33. 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, 106.

The painting is executed on a vertically grained, oval oak panel, which has been set into a larger rectangular oak panel with a vertical grain. The rectangular panel is considerably thicker than the oval. The oval panel could not be dated because the edges are obscured, but the rectangular panel has an earliest felling date of 1661. It is unclear when the oval was set into the rectangular panel, but it was likely during the artist’s lifetime. The rectangular panel has equal, steep bevels on all four edges, and the composite panel has a slight convex warp when viewed from the front.

The rectangular panel is unprimed and unpainted, but the oval panel was prepared with a light-colored ground that was thinly and evenly applied. The priming is radio-opaque and accentuates the woodgrain of the oval panel in the X-radiograph. The ground does not extend all the way to the edges of the oval, but the paint does. The paint has been built up in successive thin layers, painted wet-into-wet. The paint is so thin in the background that the ground shows through, but there is slight impasto in the figure, most notably along the outer contours of her cap, her proper left sleeve, and the fur trim of her cloak. Raised brushwork in the background indicates a horizontally oriented arch to the right of the sitter’s head, which does not relate to the current composition. Infrared photographs and a pentimento reveal that the sitter’s profile was shifted slightly to the right.

The painting is in good condition. There are slight protrusions and related craters throughout the paint and some craquelure is visible. There are some marks around the lower right side of the oval, which may be rabbet damage from an old frame. This would indicate that the oval panel was set into the rectangular panel well after the painting was completed.

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