Astronomer by Candlelight

Object Details


Astronomer by Candlelight


Gerrit Dou (Dutch, 1613 - 1675)




Netherlands (Place created)


late 1650s


Oil on panel


32 x 21.2 cm (12 5/8 x 8 3/8 in.)

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In an arched, window-like opening, an astronomer works late into the night. Concentrating, he reads an astronomical treatise and measures the distance between two points on a celestial globe. The candle he holds provides the only source of light; it illuminates his face, the book, the precious globe, the beaker of water, and his hourglass.

Strong contrasts between light and dark show the painter Gerrit Dou's knowledge of a popular Baroque technique known as chiaroscuro. Carefully rendering minute details such as the handwriting in the book, the texture of the glass flask, and the folds in the astronomer's cloak was Dou's special talent. Collectors treasured these small, detailed paintings for pleasurable observation in their private rooms.

- 1706

Possibly Adriaen Jansz. van Hoek (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) [Hoek sale, Zomer, Amsterdam, April 7, 1706, lot 2.]

- 1734

Willem Six, 1662 - 1733 (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) [sold, Six sale, Schoemaker, ten Brink, Amsterdam, May 12, 1734, lot 18.]

Possibly Wilhelm VII, landgraf von Hessen-Kassel

- 1817

Lapeyrière (Paris, France) [sold, Lapeyrière sale, Lacoste, Paris, April 14, 1817, lot 19, to Charles Paillet, for 7100 francs.]

1817 -

Charles Paillet (Paris, France)

- 1826

Joseph Barchard (England) [sold, Barchard sale, Christie's, London, May 6, 1826, lot 12, to John Smith.]


John Smith (London, England), sold to William Beckford, 1826.

1826 - by 1829

William Beckford, 1760 - 1844 (Fonthill Abbey, Wiltshire, England; Bath, Avon, England), by exchange with Abraham Hume, by 1829.

by 1829 -

Sir Abraham Hume, second Bart., 1749 - 1838 (London, England)

by 1839 - 1864

Richard Hobart Fitzgibbon, 3rd Earl of Clare, 1793 - 1864 (London, England) [sold, Clare sale, Christie's, London, June 17, 1864, lot 38, to William Delafield.]

1864 - 1870

William Delafield (London, England) [sold, Delafield sale, Christie's, London, April 30, 1870, lot 79, through Martin H. Colnaghi (London, England) to Albert Levy.]

1870 - 1876

Albert Lévy (London, England) [sold, Levy sale, Christie's, London, April 6, 1876, lot 329, to Piercer.]

1876 -


by 1888 - still in 1911

Barclay Field, Esq., 1835 - 1892 (London, England)

- 1971

John Jacob Astor, first baron Astor of Hever, 1886 - 1971 (Hever Castle, Edenbridge, Kent, England), by inheritance to Gavin Astor, 1971.

1971 - 1983

Gavin Astor, second baron Astor of Hever, 1918 - 1984 (Hever Castle, Edenbridge, Kent, England) [sold, Astor of Hever sale, Sotheby's, London, July 6, 1983, lot 80, sold to Johnny Van Haeften.]

1983 -

Johnny Van Haeften (London, England)

- 1986

Gerald Guterman (New York, New York), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1986.

Pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, French and English Masters (1839) (Cat. 30)
  • British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, (London)
Exhibition of the Works of the Old Masters (1873) (Cat. 76)
  • Royal Academy of Arts (London)
Exhibition of the Works of the Old Masters (1888) (Cat. 84)
  • Royal Academy of Arts (London)
Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting (March 18 to November 18, 1984) (Cat. 35)
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art, (Philadelphia), March 18 to May 13, 1984
Gerrit Dou (April 16, 2000 to February 25, 2001) (Cat. 31)
  • National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), April 16 to August 6, 2000
  • Dulwich Picture Gallery, (London), September 6 to November 19, 2000
  • Mauritshuis, (The Hague), December 9, 2000 to February 25, 2001
Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen (November 13, 2001 to February 3, 2002) (Cat. 81)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles)
Radiant Darkness: The Art of Nocturnal Light (April 24 to July 22, 2007) (No cat. no.)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles)

Hoet, Gerard. Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen met derzelver pryzen. Zedert een langen reeks van Jaaren zoo in Holland als op andere Plaatzen in het openbaar vekogt(1976; repr., The Hague: P.G. van Baalen, 1752) vol. 1, pp. 87, 411; nos. 2, 18.

Lacoste, Rue de Richelieu, Paris. Catalogue d'une collection précieuse et du plus beau choix, de tableaux des trois écoles [...] composant le cabinet de M.L. April 14, 1817 pp. 12-13, lot. 19.

Christie’s, London. A Catalogue of a Small but Extremely Precious Cabinet of Exquisitely Finished Flemish and Dutch Pictures […]. May 6, 1826 p. 5, lot. 12.

Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French painters [...]. 9 vols. (London: Smith and Son, 1829-1842) vol. 1 (1829), p. 33, no. 96; vol. 9 (1842), p. 6, no. 15.

British Institution for the Promoting of Fine Arts in the United Kingdom (London: William Nicol, 1839) p. 9, no. 30.

Christie’s, London. Catalogue of the Highly Important Collection of Ancient and Modern Pictures Formed by William Delafield, Esq., deceased; Removed from his late Residence in Lowndes Square. April 30, 1870 p. 13, no. 79.

Exhibition of the Works of the Old Masters, exh. cat. (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1873) p. 9, no. 76.

Christie’s, London. Catalogue of the Collection of Old Masters of Albert Levy, Esq. April 6, 1876 p. 57, lot. 329.

Exhibition of the Works of the Old Masters, exh. cat. (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1888) p. 22, no. 84.

Martin, Wilhelm. Het leven en de werken van Gerrit Dou beschouwd in verband met het schildersleven van zijn tijd (Leiden: S.C. van Doesburgh, 1901) pp. 190, 234, nos. 52, 314.

Martin, Wilhelm. Gerard Dou. Clara Bell, trans. (London: George Bell and Sons, 1902) p. 111, no. 42.

Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. (Esslingen a. N.: Paul Neff Verlag, 1907-1928), vol. 1 (1907) p. 362, no. 63c.

Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A catalogue raisonné of the works of the most eminent Dutch painters of the seventeenth century, based on the works of John Smith. Edward G. Hawke, trans and ed. (London: Macmillan and Co., 1908) pp. 364, 416-17, nos. 63c, 210.

Martin, Wilhelm. Gérard Dou, sa vie et son oeuvre. Étude sur la peinture hollandaise et les marchands au dix-septième siècle. Louis Dimier, trans. (Paris: Jouve & Cie, 1911) p. 191, no. 172.

Graves, Algernon. A Century of Loan Exhibitions, 1813-1912. 5 vols. (London: Algernon Graves, 1913-15), vol. 1 (1913) pp. 298-99.

Ayers, Tim. Art at Auction: The Year at Sotheby’s 1982-83. Two Hundred and Forty-ninth Season (Totowa: Sotheby Publications, 1983) unpaginated, ill.

Sotheby’s, London. Catalogue of Old Master Paintings. July 6, 1983 no. 80, ill.

Sutton, Peter C., ed. Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting, exh. cat. (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1984) pp. 187-88, no. 35, fig. 56.

Sluijter, Eric J., et al. Leidse Fijnschilders van Gerrit Dou tot Frans van Mieris de Jonge 1630-1760, exh. cat. (Leiden: Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, 1988) p. 107n2, 107n7.

Jeromack, Paul. “Double Dutch: Guterman Kisses his Babies Good-bye.” Art & Auction (January 1988) p. 131.

Sutton, Peter C. "Recent Patterns of Public and Private Collecting of Dutch Art." In Great Dutch Paintings from America, exh. cat. Ben Broos, et al., eds. (The Hague: Mauritshuis, with Waanders, 1990) p. 107.

Baer, Ronni. “The Paintings of Gerrit Dou (1613-1675).” Ph.D. diss. (New York University, Graduate School of Arts and Science, 1990) pp. 109.1-109.3, no. 109, ill.

Jaffé, David. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997) p. 36, ill.

Baer, Ronni. Gerrit Dou 1613-1675: Master Painter in the Age of Rembrandt, exh. cat. Arthur K. Wheelock, ed. (Washington D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2000) pp. 36, 49n114, 49n115, 50n116, 126-27, 143n1-4, no. 31, ill.

Stafford, Barbara Maria, and Frances Terpak. Devices of Wonder: from the World in a Box to Images on a Screen, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2001) p. 372, no. 81.

Chapel, Jeannie. "William Beckford: Collector of Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and Prints." In William Beckford 1760-1844: An Eye for the Magnificent. Derek E. Ostergard, ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001) pp. 241-42, 248n116, fig. 13-10.

Rembrandt-Bilder. Die historische Sammlung der Kasseler Gemäldegalerie, exh. cat. (Kassel: Staatliche Museen, with Hirmer Verlag, 2006) pp. 269-70, ill.

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