T he recent reappearance of this lovely work by Gerrit Dou, after more than seventy years in obscurity, is a pleasant surprise to specialists in the Dutch school of fijnschilders (“ultra-refined” painters), such as myself. Having written the monograph on Frans van Mieris the Elder, Dou’s star pupil, my concentration as an art dealer for thirty-five years was more on the younger generation of the Leiden school of fine painters, not necessarily the contemporary appeal of Gerrit Dou.
Both Dou and Van Mieris were well known for earning considerable premiums for their paintings, pricing them between 600 and 1500 florins on average, and much more if a response to a princely commission. The same holds true today, and one cannot help imagining that these two painters would be proud of their lucrative legacy.
The Van Mieris market was set on fire, when a beautiful painting of a Young Woman in a Red Jacket feeding a Parrot (Leiden Collection, New York) soared to a record price of $5.4 million in December 2008. This was preceded only four months earlier by the Interior with a Soldier Smoking a Pipe (National Gallery of Art in Washington), which made $2.6 million.
Having studied the Van Mieris market quite closely for obvious reasons, this writer has tended to lose track of the recent prices commanded for paintings by Gerrit Dou. It came as somewhat of a surprise to learn that the Dou market is even stronger than the Van Mieris market. The first painting by Dou to surpass one million dollars actually made more than two million in 2001, the Dentist now in the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. After this, an unusually touching painting of a Sleeping Dog (Van Otterloo Collection) fetched $4.7 million in 2005. The world’s record price for the artist was achieved when the Elderly Woman eating Porridge brought $5.3 million in 2011. The next year in January a Young Woman playing the Cavichord made $3.3 million (private collection, Washington). Later in May of that same year the Old Painter in his Studio brought $4.8 million.
Intentionally omitted from this list is the comparable Old Hermit at Prayer, which achieved nearly $1.2 million at auction in 2014. This painting is in some respects the male counterpart to our Penitent Magdalene to be offered in the Old Masters Evening Sale on 3 July. However, instead of a grizzled old man, in this painting Dou offers us a tantalizing young girl, who has fallen from grace but found her moral compass in Christian virtue.