Dou was trained as a glass and copper engraver and became a pupil of Rembrandt in the late 1620s, a period when Rembrandt favoured a smooth, high finish and fine detail (see Jacob de Gheyn, DPG99). Dou developed these qualities, and this painting is typical with its exact rendering of materials, textures and light, and the minute realism of even the smallest objects.

Dou depicted mainly contemporary domestic scenes, many of which had moral or allegorical meanings. Music-making generally signified love. This young woman, pausing in her playing, is probably waiting for her lover, who will accompany her on the viola da gamba.


  • Title: A Woman playing a Clavichord
  • Creator Lifespan: 1613 - 1671
  • Date: c.1665
  • Physical Dimensions: w299 x h377 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • Work Notes: A signature on the side of the clavichord was recorded in 1947, but it is questionable whether slight traces remain. DPG56 is probably one of the paintings by Dou recorded in the collection of De Bye in Leiden in 1665. Baer suggests a date of c.1665. An infra-red photograph shows that the tablecloth on the right was painted over a metal ewer, suggesting that the whole still life was changed.A copy in New York, Gould collection (panel, 37.5 x 30 cm.) acc. to Martin, 1913, p. 98. A black chalk sketch of the picture by St. Aubin in sale catalogue (Catalogue de Ventes illustrés par Gabriel de St. Aubin, vol. 3, Paris, 1910, p. 15).Confusion in the provenance information with the copy formerly in New York, Gould coll. (?Amsterdam, Jan Jansz. Gildemeester, 1800; ?Amsterdam, Pruysenaar, Roos, Yver, Bosch, Schley, Gildemeester sale, 11 Jun. 1800, lot 34; ?La Bouchaire (bought at Gildemeester sale). According to Baer, 1990, no. 111, B. Fredericksen of the GPI wrote (letter 17 Aug. 1987) ‘The Gardner Museum copy of the Benfield sale catalogue has this annotation, perhaps by Ange Macquin: “Knocked down at Desenfans sale in March 1802 for 170 gns.” In his copy of the Desenfans sale catalogue of 18 March 1802 (183) is written: “cost £242.11 at P. Benfield’s sale.” the Benfield catalogue says that the painting came from the Prince de Condé, by which is presumably meant the Prince of Conti.’ It therefore seems likely that DPG56 is not that sold in the Gildemeester sale.Other copies (HdG 133a, b) further confuse the issue, one of which was seen by Mrs Jameson, 1842, p. 459, no. 106 (‘I am inclined to think this picture before us an old Dutch copy of that original, which was once in the possession of Desenfans.’Another image of a woman at a virginal (by Dominicus van Tol) is at Essex County Council, Chelmsford shire Hall (see Wright, 1989, p. 64, no. 28).
  • Work Nationality: Dutch
  • Support: Panel
  • Provenance: ?Leiden, Johan de Bye, 1665 (no. 2); ?Issenghien, 1754 (this or a similar painting seen by Descamps who wrote 'Chez M. le Maréchal d'Issenghien, une jeune Femme qui touche du clavecin'); Comte de Dubarry, 1774; Paris, Rémy/Lebrun, Comte de Dubarry sale, 21 Nov. 1774, lot 30 (FF5100, to Lebrun); Paris, Prince de Conti, 1777; Paris, Rémy, Conti sale, 8 Apr. 1777 [FF5000. Note in auction catalogue says it was previously sold at London, Langford's]. Bt Langlier [Clement de Ris: Les Amateurs d'autrefois: ""Langlier"" is described as a principal ""marchand"" in 1776/7 but no first name given]; Paul Benfield, 1799; London, Coxe, Burrell and Foster, Paul Benfield sale, 30 May 1799, lot 64 (£242.11); London, Noel Desenfans, 1802-1807: London, Skinner and Dyke, Desenfans sale, 18 Mar. 1802, lot 183 (Descriptive Catalogue no. 127) (bt in); London, Sir Francis Bourgeois, 1807-1811; Bourgeois Bequest, 1811.
  • Further Information: Gerrit Dou was a Dutch painter, the most famous of the Leiden fijnschilders or ‘fine’ painters, a group of artists who produced small pictures with minute details, which concentrated on the faithful depiction of different surfaces. Gerrit Dou specialised in the ‘niche’ format, in which trompe-l’œil windows allowed him to demonstrate his illusionistic skills. He was the youngest son of a glazier, and trained in that profession in Leiden, before entering the studio of Rembrandt in 1628. He enjoyed great success in his lifetime, and his studio was a place of pilgrimage for scholars and aristocrats. Dou’s work of the 1660s is also defined for its depiction of luxurious, ‘upper-class’ interiors, as indicated here, one of his finest works, in the velvet-upholstered furnishings, tapestry and brass basin. Only two paintings with clavichord-playing women are among his accepted works. Dou's influence has often been seen in the development of Vermeer’s style, as seen in Young Woman Seated at a Virginal(National Gallery, London).
  • Artist: Gerrit Dou
  • Acquisition Method: Bourgeois, Sir Peter Francis (Bequest, 1811)

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