Century Magazine/Volume 49/Issue 6/Old Dutch Masters. Ferdinand Bol
erdinand Bol was the oldest student in Rembrandt’s house in Amsterdam. He was one of the first, and by many is considered to have been the best. Very little is known of his life. He was born at Dort, in June 1616 and became a pupil of Rembrandt toward 1630, when about fourteen years of age, and is not known to have had any other instructor. In 1652 he became a citizen of Amsterdam, and died there, on July 24, 1680, a rich man. Bol is considered chiefly as a portrait-painter, though he executed many historical works, and his etchings are highly esteemed. In his early pictures he adheres to the manner of his master, as may be readily observed in his portrait of Saskia, Rembrandt’s wife, in the Brussels Museum, and in other of his works prior to 1642, in which he comes very near his master. After this he endeavors to strike out for himself, becomes different from Rembrandt in every way, and does not succeed very well, until finally we have a masterpiece in which he shows a style of his own. This is the "Regents" in the Ryks Museum at Amsterdam, which was painted in 1649. It is a portrait group of great excellence, and has been ranked superior to Rembrandt's works in the truthfulness of its flesh-tones. It is a large canvas (eight feet long by six feet high), and represents the regents, or governors, of the Lepers' Hospital at Amsterdam,—an institution abandoned in 1862. There are four figures, clad in black, and wearing broad-brimmed hats, the solemnity of their attire being relieved by the rich Persian covering of the table at which they are seated, while an attendant leads in a poor child whose disfigured head tells the story and motive of the work. Charles Blanc mentions that on the occasion of an exhibition of paintings for some charitable purpose, this canvas, which had hung forgotten and unnoticed for two centuries in the old Leper House, created quite a sensation; and that during the exhibition Rembrandt was neglected for the sake of this fine work by his pupil.
Another life-size group by Bol in the Ryks Museum, representing the lady patronesses of the same institution, is equally fine; and, as Burger remarks, "When one has seen these two works, one places Bol above Van der Helst himself, and second only to his great master." The excellence attained by Bol at this later period is further shown by the fine "Portrait of an Astronomer," the only work of this artist in the National Gallery of London. It is dated 1652—the year in which Bol went to Amsterdam.
His works are scattered through a score of European museums. The subject which I have engraved—"Portrait of a Man"—is in the Louvre at Paris, and is dated 1659. It is a plain, matter-of-fact subject, agreeably varied upon the canvas, frankly disposed in all its parts, and its very careful and smooth finish bears evidence of a discreet hand. Its color is a simple scheme of rich warm tints, but neutral. From the deep, tender darks of the dress up through the browns of the background, and from the delicate greenish tints of the sky to the mellow tones of the flesh,—the culminating point of the harmonious whole,—all is sensitively bound together by a very subtle feeling for harmony. The canvas measures three feet three inches wide by three feet ten inches high.