The interior of the rich Dutch bourgeois. In an armchair is seated a woman whose face expresses suffering. Kneeling beside her and holding her hand, her daughter looks at her with tears. Behind the seat a servant is leaning over the patient and hands her a spoon containing a remedy. In the foreground, standing up, a doctor presents a bottle to the light of the window, carefully examining its contents.
Mercier, in his Journal de Paris, analyzes the scene this way: “It is a drama, the subject of which, although it is only an event of private life, captivates all the audience. True, simple, picturesque and touching, it produces a whole of the finest harmony by the concordance of the parts and the grace of the positions.”
According to Théophile Gautier, “there is in the masterpiece of Gerrod Dow (Gerard Dou, or Gerrit Dou), a feeling and a well-rendered painful and sympathetic expression, though the artist has not the habit of seeking the drama in his painting, so calm, so polite, so careful.”
The patience and Dutch cleanliness pushed to the last limits, it is the characteristic of Gerard Dow’s talent.
Let us abandon for a moment The dropsical woman to the care of her entourage and examine the room where this domestic drama unfolds. Everything is admirably sharp, the minute details are noted with minute precision. In front of the window where all the pans are exactly framed in their pit of lead, a curtain is drawn halfway, the folds and rings of which could be counted. The book, placed on the tripod, shows the half-raised leaflets and on the red side the artist’s signature and the date of the painting are read: G. DOV. OVT 65 JAER. On the folds of the heavy hanging on the right, the finest arabesques of the drawing are reproduced with prodigious accuracy. And the chandelier, this little marvel of chiaroscuro, whose branches, rings, and bobes are visible, of what a search for the finite does it not testify!
A search even more extraordinary for Gerard Dow which had been for several years the pupil of Rembrandt, the painter of vigorous oppositions, powerful reliefs and who did not linger on the work of marquetry of accessories.
But a pupil does not work with such a master without gaining some fruit.
At his school he learned the secret of the chiaroscuro we see, in The dropsical woman precisely, which he knew very well how to use. But he turned to the precious and finished it. Each of his works was carefully and thoroughly excavated, chiselled like a piece of goldsmith’s work. Nothing seemed to him negligible in a picture: the smallest accessory had in his eyes as much importance as the main subject. These accessories he even multiplied willingly to satisfy his taste for minuteness and detail, witness this clock, in the picture which we discuss, of which one sees the smallest peculiarities and up to the counterweight during the end of the double chain. According to Sandrard, he sometimes spent five days to paint a hand, but when it was finished, one could count the wrinkles and the folds. He painted a magnifying glass, like Breughel de Velours; it is also with the magnifying glass that one must examine his pictures: then the prodigious labor represented by each square inch of his painting appears clearly.
His meticulousness was proverbial; his studio was quoted as a marvel of order and sharpness. Every day, he had it cleaned from top to bottom, so that no particle of dust would come to rest on the canvases in the course of execution. He made his own brushes and crushed his colors with the utmost care. This is doubtless the reason why his paintings must have passed through the centuries without losing anything of the freshness of their color.
Far from harming him, his taste for goldsmith painting contributed to his fortune. This kind pleased to the meticulous, careful Holland, who saw in these interiors ranked and shining as a glorification of its domestic virtues. Gerard Dow executed small portraits which were highly appreciated and that it was very expensive. The Company of the Indies paid him 4,000 florins for a picture which it wished to offer to Charles II, King of England.
The Palatine Elector paid for The dropsical woman 30,000 florins, and donated it to Prince Eugene of Savoy. The picture remained in the Savoy family at Turin until 1800. At that time the King of Sardinia, Charles Emmanuel IV, whose states were occupied by the republican armies, offered this picture to Lieutenant-General Clausel, Marshal of France, who hastened to pay homage to the nation. It was placed in the Louvre, where it appears today in the part of the Great Gallery reserved for Dutch painters.
Height: 0.83 – Width: 0.67 – Figures: 0.32.