Genre painting—scenes depicting everyday life—flourished in the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century. The style of fijnschilderijen (or fine painting: highly detailed, naturalistic paintings rendered with an extraordinary precision of brushstrokes) became particularly popular in the university city of Leiden as a result of the artistic innovations developed by the painter Gerrit Dou (1613–1675). Dou’s small-scale, finely executed genre scenes, which often feature a single figure leaning out over a stone window ledge, display a splendid degree of illusion in the depiction of space, light, and material surfaces. The exquisite character of these works, taken together with their possible symbolic or moralizing meaning, encourages close study by viewers.
Artists working in and around Leiden in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries responded to Dou’s themes and painting style in significant ways, whether by taking up the motif of a figure peering out of a stone archway or ledge, depicting the intellectual meditations of a scholar, or capturing the effects of light on different surface textures. This exhibition explores the work of Dou and his contemporaries through the focused theme of the inner world—considering tradition and innovation in the representation of figures in interior spaces, individuals in moments of contemplation or quiet exchange, and the enduring taste among collectors for fijnschilderijen.