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Schalcken the Painter (1979)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Schalcken asks his model to move away from the candlelight and stare in to the dark. The narrator suggests paintings often represent real events. In particular, he refers to a work by Godfried Schalcken, which in the foreground shows a woman with a coy expression wearing a white robe and standing behind her a man with an alarmed expression about to draw his sword. To the side is an undefined form in the darkness.

Schalcken studies under Gerrit Dou, an apprentice of Rembrandt, in Leiden in the 1660s. Schalcken is in love with Rose, Dou's niece and ward. Rose stands by Schalcken as he works and he finally manages to profess his love. Dou invites him to dinner, but only to discuss his painting. While painting one day, he goes up to Rose, cups her breast with his hand, and then goes back to work. That night he is visited by Vanderhausen of Rotterdam, who makes an appointment to meet Dou. When Vanderhausen arrives, he asks that Schalcken take the contents of a box to be valued. After Schalcken leaves, he tells Dou that he wants to marry Rose. He insists that once the valuation is made, Dou make up his mind on the spot. The gold is of great purity and the value enormous. Dou signs the contract and Schalcken witnesses it, without knowing what it entails.

Vanderhausen comes to dinner. His face is completely grey and lifeless. After he leaves, Rose comments on his dreadful appearance, saying that he looks like an old wooden figure they saw in the Church of St Lawrence in Rotterdam. Dou insists that she marry him. Rose asks Schalcken to run away with her, but as he has no money he says that they must wait until he can buy back the contract. After she is married, Schalcken is absent from his classes for a few days, but returns with love slowly replaced by ambition. When there is no news from Rose, he goes to Rotterdam to look for Vanderhausen, but no one has heard of him. He eventually goes to a brothel and sleeps with a woman resembling Rose. Outside the church, he recognises the coach that took Rose to the wedding. The coachman remembers the occasion, as the couple never emerged from the church after going inside. He produces the pouch with which his fare was paid, which Schalcken takes. Schalcken later uses it as part of a painting of a man paying a woman.

The years pass. Schalcken becomes famous for his paintings which, the narrator notes, feature sensuality without passion. He remains friendly with Dou and one night, as they go over his accounts, Rose returns. She is desperately hungry and thirsty and begs for a priest. She is terrified of Vanderhausen, repeating that "the dead and the living can never be one". Schalcken draws his sword in the bedchamber when she screams at a shadow. When he briefly leaves to find a light to keep the darkness away, the door shuts and her screams are heard. When he is able to open the door, she is gone.

Schalcken selects a model and undertakes a series of paintings based on classical and mythological subjects which usually feature her partially naked. Schalcken marries and when he is offered a vast sum to paint a portrait on commission, he agrees to do it. In 1675 Dou dies. Returning from the funeral, Schalcken is clearly shaken and passes the night in his study. He had been drawn to a vault in the chapel and, trapped inside, had a vision of Rose who beckoned to him while always keeping out of his reach. She asked for his money pouch, dropped the contents on the floor and revealed a bed in which Vanderhausen lay naked. She removed her clothes and had sex with him. Schalcken was unable to escape from this vision and finally fainted.

The narrator sees the painting as Schalcken's testament to the truth of the story, but comments that it doesn't actually depict the story as the artist said it happened, and that there is no other evidence that he ever had a relationship with Rose.