Domenicus van Tol
1635 – 1676
The Violin Player
It has generally been assumed that Domenicus van Tol began his career as a pupil of his uncle the famous fijnschilder (fine painter) Gerrit Dou (1613 - 1675). He followed closely in his uncle's footsteps and was to specialise in painting genre scenes as well as some religious compositions. Many of his smaller pictures are scenes spied through an arched window in the typical fijnschilder style which is precise and highly finished.
Van Tol was elected a member of the Guild of St. Luke in Leiden in 1664 and later moved to Utrecht in 1669 looking for a more prosperous market. Here he was married to Maria Pollion (d. 1679), but when the French army invaded in 1672 and occupied the town the family moved to Amsterdam. Around 1674/5 the family returned to van Tol's home town of Leiden. It has been suggested financial problems dogged van Tol throughout these years and that poor Maria was left in debt after he died.
In this painting, as in many of his other genre scenes, van Tol has placed his figure within an arch-topped window surround. The pictorial device of the stone window frame was introduced by Dou in the late 1640s, but the format remained popular with genre painters, especially pupils and followers of Dou, well into the eighteenth century. Here, van Tol has exploited its potential to enhance the painting’s illusionistic qualities: firstly, in the trompe l’oeil-like treatment of the carved stonework, with the signature and the date seemingly inscribed in the stone, but also in the way in which he has challenged our perception of the boundary between the real world and the fictive world of the painting. This is apparent in the careful placement of the music book, jutting over the window ledge, and especially in the neck of the violin, with its conspicuous blue tassel dangling from the scroll, angled in such a way that it seems to ‘break through’ the picture plane into the viewer’s space.
The subject of a musician at a window was painted several times by Gerrit Dou during the course of his career. The likely model for van Tol’s Violin Player was a similarly conceived painting by Dou, dated 1653, now in the Princely Collections, in Liechtenstein.
Artists were quite often depicted as musicians in seventeenth-century Dutch paintings. However, to judge from a recently identified self-portrait of Dominicus van Tol, the young man portrayed here is not a likeness of the artist.
Sale Christie's, London, 18 June 1881, lot 119 (105 gns. to Sedelmeyer);
Sale; Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 5 June 1924, lot 97.