Douw designed everything from nature, and with such exactness that each object appears as perfect as nature herself. He was incontestibly the most wonderful in his finishing of all the Flemish masters, although the number of artists of that school who have excelled in this particular style are quite large. The pictures he first painted were portraits, and he wrought by the aid of a concave mirror, and sometimes by looking at the object through a frame of many squares of small silk thread. He spent so much time in these works that, notwithstanding they were extremely admired, his sitters became disgusted, and he was obliged to abandon portrait painting entirely, and devote his attention to fancy subjects, in the execution of which he could devote as much time as he pleased. This will not appear surprising, when Sandrart informs us that, on one occasion, in company with Peter de Laer, he visited Douw, and found him at work on a picture, which they could not forbear admiring for its extraordinary neatness, and on taking particular notice of a broom, and expressing their surprise that he could devote so much time in finishing so minute an object, Douw informed them that he should work on it three days more before he should think it complete. The same author also says that in a family picture of Mrs. Spiering, that lady sat five days for the finishing of one of her hands, supporting it on the arm of a chair.
DOUW’S METHOD OF PAINTING.
His mind was naturally turned to precision and exactness, and it is evident that he would have shown this quality in any other profession, had he practiced another. Methodical and regular in all his habits, he prepared and ground his own colors, and made his own brushes of a peculiar shape, and he kept them locked up in a case made for the purpose, that they might be free from soil. He permitted no one to enter his studio, save a very few friends, and when he entered himself, he went as softly as he could tread, so as not to raise the dust, and after taking his seat, waited some time till the air was settled before he opened his box and went to work; scarcely a breath of air was allowed to ventilate his painting-room.
Everything that came from his pencil was precious, even in his life-time. Houbraken says that his great patron, Mr. Spiering the banker, allowed him one thousand guilders a year, and paid besides whatever sum he pleased to ask for his pictures, some of which he purchased for their weight in silver; but Sandrart informs us, with more probability, that the thousand guilders were paid to Douw by Spiering on condition that the artist should give him the choice of all the pictures he painted. The following description of one of Gerhard’s most capital pictures, for a long time in the possession of the family of Van Hoek, at Amsterdam, will serve to give a good idea