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Self-Portrait (?) at an Easel

Attributed to Gerrit Dou

(Leiden 1613 – 1675 Leiden)
ca. 1628–29
oil on panel
66.6 x 50.9 cm
inventory number

Surh, Dominique. “Self-Portrait (?) at an Easel” (2017). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 3rd ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Lara Yeager-Crasselt. New York, 2020–. (accessed October 23, 2021).

In the quiet of his atelier, a young artist gazes out at the viewer while seated before a large, stretched canvas on a wooden easel, his right arm raised as though he is about to apply paint to his composition. The horizontal shape and substantial scale of the canvas indicate that the young artist is composing a history scene, the most difficult and prestigious in the hierarchy of painting genres. At the same time, his direct gaze suggests that his scene incorporates some aspect of the real world, one that implicitly involves us.

The studio scene offers a fascinating glimpse into an artist’s workshop. One sees here that Dutch artists sat when they painted, and the way they stretched their canvases on a wooden frame. The young artist has also brought to his studio a number of props appropriate for a history painting. Some of these are in a large chest filled with costly vessels of silver and gold, exotic fabrics, and a heavy chain with a medallion, while on the floor are a cuirass, plumed helmet or cabasset, and various patterned textiles. The large tome and horn are attributes associated with the muse of history, Cleo. Also in the studio are wooden stretchers of different shapes leaning against the back wall. The grisaille tronies of an old man and woman tacked to the wall are the types of character studies artists often painted in Leiden during the late 1620s and early 1630s.

This intriguing work, which is unsigned and undated, is characteristic of paintings created in Leiden around 1630, but much debate has surrounded its attribution. It was once thought to have been executed by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69), but that traditional assessment was challenged in 1911 when Wilhelm Martin gave the painting to Rembrandt’s pupil, Gerrit Dou. Martin dated it to the period of Dou’s apprenticeship with Rembrandt from 1628 to 1631. Subsequently, Kurt Bauch proposed that Rembrandt retouched the work in critical areas, specifically the face of the artist. Werner Sumowski, who initially accepted Bauch’s proposal, eventually concluded that Dou made the various compositional adjustments himself.

An attribution of the painting to Dou, however, convinced neither Richard Hunnewell nor Ronni Baer. In 1983 Hunnewell suggested an alternative attribution to Rembrandt’s close circle, or possibly, Willem de Poorter (1608–48), while Baer, in 1990, characterized the still-life elements in the painting as “superficially Dou-like” but noted that their “formulaic highlights and . . . rough, broad handling . . . find no parallel in Dou’s autograph work.” Baer suggested that the painting was executed by the same unidentified hand or hands as Parable of the Hidden Treasure in the Szépművészeti Múzeum in Budapest (). She also noted that the painting is closely related to The Rest on the Flight into Egypt formerly in Downton Castle. Both paintings have been considered collaborative works in which Dou participated, but their attributions are uncertain.

In an unpublished essay from 2003, Bob van den Boogert defended the attribution of the painting to Dou. He argued that the painting is closely associated in style and compositional organization with a painting in Budapest: An Officer of the Leiden Civic Guard with an Arms Still Life (). Although the Budapest painting is unsigned and undated and the attribution is debated, Van den Boogert believed that the young Dou executed both paintings. Both panels have the same dimensions, include comparable still-life elements, and share a similar layering of objects that creates a consistent approach to spatial recession. A recent examination of the two works side by side revealed striking similarities in palette and compositional approach, increasing the likelihood that the same artist executed both works. Whether or not that artist is Dou, however, is another question.

The ongoing discussions regarding the attribution of this painting to Dou relate to larger unresolved questions about the character of Dou’s early paintings. Very little is known about Dou’s apprenticeship with Rembrandt, and experts do not agree on the paintings he produced during this time. The problem of defining the nature of Dou’s early style is exacerbated by the fact that there are no dated paintings by Dou before 1637.

One of the central issues in assessing Dou’s early works is the nature of his painting technique. Baer, for example, believes that the young master painted in a relatively smooth style, as is evident in Artist at His Easel (). Jørgen Wadum, on the other hand, believes that from the beginning of his career, even before he entered Rembrandt’s workshop, Dou executed his works with fine, parallel hatchings. Ernst van de Wetering has discussed the didactic importance of imitation in studio practice and argues that it is to be expected that Dou’s early painting style would closely resemble Rembrandt’s own. The question then remains as to whether the character of Dou’s early brushwork is identifiable as a consistent, idiosyncratic feature, or whether Dou expanded his technique and experimented with brushwork during these years in Rembrandt’s studio. The application of paint in the Leiden Collection painting is relatively loose and thick, but until a clearer resolution of these divergent views of Dou’s early manner of painting is achieved, it seems appropriate to designate this work as “attributed to Gerrit Dou.”

Even though no firm attribution of this work can be made at the present time, the pictorial influences that shaped the subject matter and composition of the Leiden Collection painting are readily evident and point to an origin within Rembrandt’s close circle in Leiden. The cuirass and plumed helmet, for example, are similar to objects in the military still life in the foreground of Rembrandt’s History Painting of 1626 in the Lakenhal. The oval grisaille sketches on the back wall of the studio recall tronies and turbaned figures in drawings and prints by Rembrandt and his fellow Leiden artist, Jan Lievens (1607–74). The most striking pictorial source for the Leiden Collection painting, however, is Rembrandt’s Artist in His Studio, ca. 1628–29, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (). Like Rembrandt’s work, the composition is organized around a large painting on an easel turned away from the viewer, with a doorway on the right and a light source on the left. Similar, as well, are the rustic wooden floorboards, crumbling plaster and orthogonally oblique wall in the middle of the room, which leave little doubt that the Boston painting served as this painting’s direct prototype.

The identity of the artist sitting before the easel has been frequently discussed, with scholars variously identifying the figure as either Rembrandt or Dou. Martin first cited the figure as an anonymous, generic artist, but later identified it as a portrait of Dou. Indeed, the artist’s features—rounded cheeks, a mouth with a full upper lip at the center, cleft chin, and slightly upturned nose—are remarkably similar to Dou’s Self-Portrait from ca. 1635 in the Cheltenham Art Gallery or another self-portrait from 1645 in the Kremer Collection (). Dou would have been around seventeen years old in 1630, when the Leiden Collection painting was executed, which seems consistent with the age of the man in this work.

The dating of the painting to ca. 1630 is also supported by dendrochronological data, which indicates that the wood panel was ready for priming by the middle of the 1620s. The analysis provides further evidence that the painting was executed within Rembrandt’s close circle: the panel comes from the same tree as Rembrandt’s Head of an Old Man in a Cap from ca. 1630, now in the Bader Collection. This match suggests that the two wooden supports were obtained from the same panel maker in Leiden, possibly acquired as part of a mutual workshop consignment.

Based on the aforementioned evidence, it seems most reasonable to conclude that the present painting originated within Rembrandt’s immediate circle in Leiden, most likely by Gerrit Dou, although there were undoubtedly other artists in Leiden whose names have not been recorded who worked in a similar style. Also supporting the notion of Dou’s authorship is the characterization of the artist as a pictor doctus surrounded by the objects of his profession. Here, the young but erudite painter presents himself as a skilled and ambitious artist, which is consistent with the presentation of Dou’s artistic persona in his later self-portraiture. Although the complexities surrounding Dou’s early artistic personality are such that a firm attribution of this work to the young master cannot yet be made, ongoing research about the artist’s early career may eventually determine that this painting holds an important place within his artistic evolution.

- Dominique Surh, 2017
For further discussion about this artwork, see Gerrit Dou and His Collectors in the Golden Age; and Rembrandt and The Leiden Collection.
  • Possibly Count Joseph von Rechberg (1769–1833), Austria.
  • George Cornwall Legh, M. P. (1804–77), East Hall, High Legh, Knustford, Cheshire; by descent to Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Martin Cornwall Legh (1839–1904).
  • Lindo S. Meyers, London; [Kleinberger Galeries, Paris, by 1911].
  • Fritz von Gans, Frankfurt-am-Main, by 1913; [K. W. Bachstitz, The Hague, by 1920, no. 29].
  • K. Henschel, Kassel, ca. 1924.
  • ([Gustav Cramer, Berlin, 1938; K. Erasmus, Aerdenhout, 1938]; Christie’s, London, 24 February 1939, no. 37, as by Rembrandt [for £546 to Watson]).
  • Philippens, Amsterdam, ca. 1938–40.
  • [Schaeffer Galleries, New York, by 1948].
  • [F. H. Enneking, Amsterdam, 1958; Hans Max Cramer, The Hague, 1958].
  • Heinz Kisters (1912–77), Kreuzlingen, 1959 (to Günther and Anne Liese Henle).
  • Günther and Anne Liese Henle, Duisburg (his Sale, Sotheby’s, London, 3 December 1997, no. 6, unsold; sale, Christie’s, London, 10 July 2002, no. 70; [Jack Kilgore & Co., New York; Otto Naumann Ltd., New York, 2004]).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner.
  • Delft, Prinsenhof Museum, “Xe Oude Kunst- en Antiekbeurs,” 21 August–9 September 1958 [lent by F. H. Enneking, Amsterdam].
  • Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, “Die Sammlung Henle: Aus dem grossen Jahrhundert der niederländischen Malerei,” 22 February–5 April 1964, no. 10 [lent by Günther and Anne Liese Henle, Duisburg].
  • Art Institute of Chicago, “Rembrandt after Three Hundred Years,” 25 October–7 December 1969; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 22 December 1969–1 February 1970; Detroit Institute of Arts, 24 February–5 April 1970, no. 36 [lent by Günther and Anne Liese Henle, Duisburg].
  • The Hague, The Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis, “Terugzien in bewondering / A Collector’s Choice,” February–March 1982, no. 30 [lent by Günther and Anne Liese Henle, Duisburg].
  • Amsterdam, K. & V. Waterman Gallery, “The Impact of a Genius: Rembrandt, His Pupils and Followers in the Seventeenth Century,” 22 April–17 May 1983; Groningen, Groninger Museum, 20 May–30 June 1983, no. 14 [lent by Günther and Anne Liese Henle, Duisburg].
  • Norfolk, VA, Chrysler Museum of Art, on loan with the permanent collection, 2005–6 [lent by the present owner].
  • Oxford, Ashmolean Museum of Art, on loan with the permanent collection, December 2009– January 2011 [lent by the present owner].
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Dutch Treat: A Glimpse of Holland’s Golden Age,” 11 October 2011–6 January 2012 [lent by the present owner].
  • Leiden, Lakenhal Museum, “Gerrit Dou: The Leiden Collection From New York,” 9 March–31 August 2014 [lent by the present owner].
  • Budapest, Szépművészeti Museum, on loan with the permanent collection, October–December 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].
  • 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].
  • Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi, “Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre,” 14 February–18 May 2019 [lent by the present owner].
  • Carter, Joseph H. Catalogue of the Collection of Paintings at High Legh Hall. Birmingham, [ca. 1893], 52, no. 28, as a self-portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Martin, Wilhelm. Gerard Dou, sa vie et son oeuvre. Etude sur la peinture hollandaise et les marchaunds au dix septième siècle. Paris, 1911, 173, no. 63 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Kleinberger Galleries. A Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of 150 Paintings by Old Masters of the Dutch, Flemish, German, Italian, Spanish and French Schools from the Kleinberger Galleries. Sales cat. Kleinberger Galleries, New York and Paris. New York and Paris, 1911, no. 16 (as probably a portrait of Rembrandt by Gerrit Dou).
  • Martin, Wilhelm. Gerard Dou, des Meisters Gemälde in 247 Abbildungen. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 24. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1913, 180, no. 13 (as a self-portrait by  Gerrit Dou).
  • Bachstitz Galerie. The Bachstitz Gallery. The Hague, 1920, 22, no. 29 (as a portrait of Rembrandt by Gerrit Dou).
  • Van Falke, Otto. The Bachstitz Gallery: Catalogue of Paintings and Tapestries. 3 vols. Berlin, 1921, 1: no. 34 (as a portrait of Rembrandt by Gerrit Dou).
  • Balet, Leo. “Die Sammlung Bachstitz.” Der Cicerone 13 (May 1921): 334 (as a portrait of Rembrandt by Gerrit Dou).
  • Bauch, Kurt. Der frühe Rembrandt und sein Zeit: Studien zur geschichtlichen Bedeutung seines Frühstils. Berlin, 1960, 221–23 (as a self-portrait by Dou, retouched by Rembrandt van Rijn).
  • Plietzsch, Eduard.  Holländische und Flämische Maler des 17. Jahrhunderts. Leipzig, 1960, 37–38, as by Dou, retouched by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Sumowski, Werner. “Rezension von: K. Bauch, Der frühe Rembrandt und seine Zeit (1960).” Göttingische Gelehrte Anzeigen 3/4 (1962): 209 (as by Gerrit Dou, retouched by Rembrandt van Rijn).
  • Van Hall, Hermine. Portretten van nederlandse beeldende kunstenaars/Portraits of Dutch Painters and Other Artists of the Low Countries. Amsterdam, 1963, 81–82, no. 25 (as by Dou, retouched by Rembrandt van Rijn).
  • Vey, Horst. Die Sammlung Henle: aus dem grossen Jahrhundert der neiderländischen Malerei. Exh. cat. Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum. Cologne, 1964, no. 10 (as by Dou, possibly retouched by Rembrandt van Rijn).
  • Bauch, Kurt. Rembrandt: Gemälde. Berlin, 1966, 29, A7 (as by Gerrit Dou, retouched by Rembrandt van Rijn).
  • Judson, J. Richard.  “Artist in His Studio.” In Rembrandt After Three Hundred Years: An Exhibition of Rembrandt and His Followers. Edited by Charles C. Cunningham, Egbert Haverkap-Begemann, J. Richard Judson, and Anne-Marie Logan, 51–2, no. 36. Exh. cat. Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago; Minneapolis, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Detroit, The Detroit Institute of Arts. Chicago, 1969 (as by Gerrit Dou, possibly retouched by another hand).
  • Eckardt, Götz . Selbstbildnisse niederländischer Maler des 17. Jahrhunderts. Berlin, 1971, 176, no. 22 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Van de Watering, Willem L., Hans M. Cramer, John Hoogsteder, and Samuel Nystad. Terugzien in bewondering: A Collector’s Choice. Exh. cat. The Hague, Royal Cabinet of Pictures Mauritshuis. The Hague, 1982, 98-99, no. 30 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Sumowski, Werner. Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler. 6 vols. Landau and Pfalz, 1983–95, 1: 528, 558, no. 261 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Blankert, Albert, Ben Broos, Ernst van de Wetering, Guido Jansen and Willem van de Wetering. The Impact of a Genius: Rembrandt, His Pupils and Followers in the Seventeenth Century: Paintings from Museums and Private Collections. Exh. cat.  Amsterdam, Waterman Gallery; Groningen, Groninger Museum. Amsterdam, 1983, 118-19, no. 14 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Hunnewell, Richard W. “Gerrit Dou’s Self Portraits and Depictions of the Artist.” 2 vols. PhD diss. Boston University, 1983, 2: 288, 291-92, no. 13 (as Circle of Rembrandt van Rijn, possibly Willem de Poorter).
  • Bruyn, Josua. “Review of Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, I by W. Sumowski; J. A. Backer; A. van Dijck.” Oud Holland 98, no. 3 (1984): 161, no. 26 (as an uncertain attribution).
  • Raupp, Hans-Joachim. Untersuchungen zu Künstlerbildnis und Künsterdarstellung in den Niederlanden im 17. Jahrhundert. 1984, 170, as by Gerrit Dou.
  • Bruyn, Josua, et al. A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings. Vol. 2: 1631–1634. Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project. The Hague, 1986, 2:33, no. 14.
  • Baer, Ronni. “The Paintings of Gerrit Dou (1613–1675)”. 3 vols. PhD diss. New York University, 1990, 1:23, 3: no. C1 (as an uncertain attribution).
  • Van de Wetering, Ernst. Rembrandt: The Painter at Work. Amsterdam, 1997, 117 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Brown, Christopher, Jan Kelch, and Pieter J. J. van Thiel, eds. Rembrandt: The Master and His Workshop. 2 vols. Exh. cat. Berlin, Altes Museum; Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum; London, National Gallery, 1991, 1:94 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • De Winkel, Marieke. Fashion and Fancy: Dress and Meaning in Rembrandt’s Paintings. Amsterdam, 2006, 157, illustrated.
  • Kleinert, Katja and Cécile Tainturier.  “Schilders uit de verf: Leidse ateliervoorstellingen uit de zeventiende eeuw.” De Zeventiende Eeuw 22 (2006): 114, no. 6 (as by Gerrit Dou).
  • Hirschfelder, Dagmar. “Training Piece and Sales Product. On the Functions of the Tronie in Rembrandt’s Workshop.” Rembrandt 2006: Essays. Edited by Michiel Roscam Abbing, 1: 132, no. 9h. Leiden, 2006 (as attributed to Gerrit Dou).
  • Surh, Dominique, Ilona van Tuinen, and John Twilley. “Insights from Technical Analysis on a Group of Paintings by Gerrit Dou in the Leiden Collection.” Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 6:1 (Winter 2014): 37, n. 12, DOI:10.5092/jhna.2014.6.1.3 (as School of Rembrandt, possibly Gerrit Dou).
  • Schnackenburg, Bernhard. Jan Lievens: Friend and Rival of the Young Rembrandt. Petersberg, 2016, 131.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Self-Portrait (?) at an Easel.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 70; 178, no. 25. 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, 94–95.
  • Bijl, Martin. “Gerrit Dou as a Pupil of Rembrandt.” In Rembrandt and his Circle: Insights and Discoveries. Edited by Stephanie S. Dickey, 171, 183, nn. 9. 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, 17; 28, n. 5. 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. “Self-Portrait (?) at an Easel.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 98–99; 234, no. 16. 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. “The Leiden Collection and the Dutch Golden Age.” In Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre. Edited by Blaise Ducos and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 28. Exh. cat. Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi. London, 2019. [Exhibition catalogue also published in French and Arabic.]
  • Ducos, Blaise, and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, eds. Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre. Exh. cat. Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi. London, 2019, 114–15, no. 44. [Exhibition catalogue also published in French and Arabic.]
  • Coutré, Jacquelyn N. “Rembrandus Hermanni Leydensis: Rembrandt, son of Harmen, of Leiden.” In Leiden circa 1630: Rembrandt Emerges. Edited by Jacquelyn N. Coutré, 28-29, no. 19. Exh. cat. Kingston, Agnes Etherington; Edmonton, Art Gallery of Alberta; Hamilton, Art Gallery of Hamilton. Kingston, 2019.
  • Berry Drago, Elisabeth. Painted Alchemists: Early Modern Artistry and Experiment in the Work of Thomas Wijck. Amsterdam Studies in the Dutch Golden Age. Amsterdam, 2019, 250–51, fig. 6.7.

The painting was executed on a wood panel. The panel is comprised of three vertically grained and oriented oak boards of unequal size. The left plank is 21 cm wide, the center is 24 cm wide, and the right is only 5.5 cm wide. The left plank could not be dated, but the center and right planks came from the same tree, which was felled after 1617. There are no original bevels because the panel has been thinned and cradled.

The panel was prepared with a thin, even, light-colored ground. The ground is radio-opaque, accentuating the wood grain in the X-radiographs. The paint was applied in thin, successive layers of light over dark, with slight impasto in some areas. Infrared photography shows that the sitter was moved slightly to the right and his jaw was lowered slightly. The jaw originally ended at the present location of the sitter’s lips. An amorphous shape in the X-radiographs in the area between the sitter’s back and the three canvases against the wall and brushwork unrelated to the final composition in this area implies that there was a more significant compositional change. The X-radiographs also show large areas of reserve remain around the trumpet, fabric, and the scarf in the lower left corner, indicating further changes in these areas. It appears the trumpet was also shifted to the right.

The panel remains in plane, but it has cracked along the vertical cradle members at the top and bottom of the panel.  There is a fair amount of abrasion to the paint in the background, the sitter’s robe, the lid of the trunk, and the shadows of the sitter’s face, and along the right edge. The painting was treated in 2002.

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