Screenshot from the 1979 BBC TV adaptation of "Schalken the Painter".

"Schalken the Painter" is a short ghost story by the Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu. It was first published in the Dublin University Magazine in May 1839. A modified version of the story, titled "Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter" was published in the anthology The Purcell Papers in 1880.

The action takes place in the Netherlands in the 17th century. The story's title character, Godfrey Schalken,[1] is a young artist who is an apprentice of the painter Gerard Douw.[2] Schalken and Rose Velderkaust, Douw's young niece and ward, love each other. Knowing that Douw would not allow a poor and unknown artist to marry his niece, Schalken does not speak about his love for Rose to his master. When a mysterious and wealthy man asks for Rose's hand in marriage, Douw agrees, even though the man looks like a corpse.

A TV movie based on the story was first shown on British television in 1979.


The story begins with the unnamed narrator describing a painting by Shalken which he owns. The painting appears to show a church. There is a woman in white with a veil, who does not appear to be a nun, in the picture. She is holding a lantern and has a mischievous smile on her face. In the background of the painting is a man who looks alarmed and who is drawing a sword. The narrator's great-grandfather was a friend of Schalken and received the painting from the artist. The painting and the story attached to it have been passed down through the narrator's family.[3]

Self-portrait of Godfried Schalcken

1694 self-portrait of Godfried Schalcken, whom Sheridan Le Fanu calls Godfrey Schalken.

In Leiden in the 17th century, the young Godfrey Schalken is a pupil of the artist Gerard Douw. Gerard Douw is the legal guardian of his sixteen-year old niece Rose Velderkaust. Schalken and Rose are in love with each other but Schalken knows that Douw would not allow him to marry Rose until he became rich. For that reason, Schalken is working hard to become a successful artist.

At seven o'clock one evening, Schalken is still in Douw's studio, working on a sketch, after all the other students have left. A man suddenly appears. He is richly dressed and, from his gray hair, appears to be about sixty-years old. His face is obscured by the broad brim of his hat and he wears gloves which extend beyond his wrists. Schalken is troubled by the man's "stone-like stillness". The man says that he is Minheer[4] Vanderhausen of Rotterdam and that he would like to see Gerard Douw at the same time and in the same place the following evening. The man suddenly leaves. The curious Schalken goes to the window to see which way the man goes. He does not see the man leave the building. Schalken concludes that, unless the man has vanished, he is still inside the building for "some sinister purpose". Schalken becomes afraid to stay in the room on his own and also afraid to leave it. He eventually leaves and does not see the man again as he does so.

The following evening, Gerard Douw impatiently waits with Schalken for the arrival of Minheer Vanderhausen. Douw has never heard of the man and thinks that somebody may be playing a trick on him. When Vanderhausen appears at seven o'clock, Douw is in no doubt that the man is a wealthy and important person. Having established that Schalken is a trustworthy person, Vanderhausen gives him a box and tells him to take it to the nearest goldsmith or jeweler to get its contents evaluated.

After Schalken has gone, Vanderhausen says that he must be brief because he can only stay for a few minutes. He says that he saw Douw with his niece Rose in St. Lawrence's Church in Rotterdam. He says that he wants to marry Rose and that Douw could not find a richer husband for her. Douw says that Rose can decide for herself who she wants to marry. Vanderhausen, however, knows that this is not true and that Rose will do what her legal guardian tells her to do. Vanderhausen says that he will give Douw the gold in the box which he handed to Schalken if Douw agrees to let him marry Rose. Shalken returns and says that the gold in the box is worth several thousand rixdollars. A contract is signed by Douw and Vanderhausen which is sadly witnessed by Schalken.

Vanderhausen says that he will go to Douw's house at nine o'clock the following evening to meet Rose. Again, Schalken looks out of the window to see which way Vanderhausen goes and again does not see him. Douw decides not to tell Rose about the husband that he has chosen for her that evening. He knows that Rose would ask what the man looked like. Douw could not answer that question because he did not see Vanderhausen's face.

Self-portrait by Gerrit Dou

1635 self-portrait of Gerrit Dou, whom Sheridan Le Fanu calls Gerard Douw.

The following evening, Douw tells Rose to put on her best clothes because a friend is coming to visit. Schalken is also invited. At nine o'clock, Vanderhausen arrives and finally reveals his face. His skin is blue, his lips are black and his eyes are mostly a muddy white. All of his movements look very strange, as if his limbs are not used to moving. Douw, Schalken and Rose notice that Vanderhausen does not blink and that his chest does not move to show that he is breathing. Vanderhausen only stays for about thirty minutes and says very little during that time. After Vanderhausen has gone, Rose says that she never wants to see him again. She says that he reminds her of an old painted wooden figure in St. Lawrence's Church in Rotterdam which used to frighten her. Douw agrees that Vanderhausen is ugly but says that his wealth and generosity more than make up for that.

Presents for Rose and a contract for Douw arrive the following day. The contract promises payments to Douw four times a year if Vanderhausen marries Rose. Less than a week later, Vanderhausen and Rose are married and leave for Rotterdam. For a short time, having lost Rose, Schalken loses interest in studying painting. Soon, however, he begins working hard as before. He is now motivated solely by ambition.

Months pass. Douw does not receive any of the payments that Vanderhausen promised him and does not hear from Rose. Douw travels to Rotterdam but cannot find Vanderhausen or anybody who has ever heard of him. Back in Leiden, Douw contacts the company from which Vanderhausen hired a coach to take himself and Rose to Rotterdam. The coachman says that a group of men dressed in old-fashioned clothes stopped the coach several miles outside of Rotterdam. Vanderhausen and Rose got out and got into a litter. The coachman found a purse full of coins in the back of the coach which more than paid for its hire.

Douw continues to worry about Rose and misses her company. He often invites Schalken to come home with him in the evening.

One evening, Schalken and Douw hear a loud knocking at the door. Rose is there. She is wrapped in white wool from her neck to her feet. She says that she desperately needs wine and food. She tears pieces from a joint of meat with her hands and teeth without waiting for it to be cut. She then says that she needs to see a priest because, "he can deliver me; the dead and living can never be one. God has forbidden it." Douw asks Rose if she wants to go to bed. She agrees but says that Douw and Schalken have to stay in the room with her and that she would be in danger if she were left alone. She is taken to Douw's bedroom, which is connected to another room by a door. Before entering the room, she says, "Oh, God! he is here! he is here! See, see! there he goes." Douw and Schalken do not see anyone but know that Rose is telling the truth. The priest arrives. Rose tells him to pray for her, "as for one who lay in the hands of Satan."

Godfried Schalcken - Young Girl with a Candle - WGA20944

Young Girl with a Candle, painted between 1670 and 1675 by Godfried Schalcken.

The candle blows out. Rose tells Schalken to fetch another one from the adjoining room. Forgetting that Rose asked not to be left alone, Douw goes too. The door closes and the two men cannot open it again. They hear screams, footsteps approaching the bed and the window opening. They are then able to open the door. The room is empty. Ripples in the canal below suggest that bodies have fallen into it. Rose is never seen gain.

Many years later, Schalken goes to Rotterdam for his father's funeral. He arrives in the city in the evening and goes into St. Lawrence's Church. He falls asleep there. He is awoken by a tap on his shoulder. He sees a ghostly female figure holding a lantern. He follows the figure down some steps. He sees that it has Rose's face and a mischievous smile. Schalken follows the figure into a room where there is a four-poster bed. The figure pulls back the black curtains on the bed. Vanderhausen is there, sitting bolt upright. Schalken faints at the sight of him. The following day, Schalken wakes up in a vault. He is lying next to a large coffin. Shortly afterwards, he begins work on the painting which the narrator now owns.


A British TV movie based on the story, titled Schalcken the Painter, was first shown on BBC television on December 23, 1979. Although the program's scheduling can be seen as following in the BBC's tradition of A Ghost Story for Christmas,[5] it is not an official part of that series. It was originally shown as an episode of the arts program Omnibus. The adaptation stars Charles Gray as the Narrator, Jeremy Clyde as Godfried Schalcken, Maurice Denham as Gerrit Dou, Cheryl Kennedy as Rose and John Justin as Vanderhausen. Unlike in the original story, Rose asks Schalcken to save her from marrying Vanderhausen by running away with her. Schalcken refuses. He says instead that he will buy back her marriage contract when he is a rich and successful artist. In the adaptation, Schalcken encounters the ghost of Rose after Dou's funeral, rather than while visiting Rotterdam for his father's funeral.

See also


  1. Godfried Schalcken (1643-1706) was a Dutch artist who was noted for his mastery in reproducing the effect of candlelight. He was a student of Gerrit Dou.
  2. Gerrit Dou (1613-1675) was a Dutch artist who was noted for his paintings of candlelit night scenes. He was a student of Rembrandt.
  3. In the version of the story published in 1880 as "Strange Event in the Life of Shalken the Painter", the narrator is an Irishman named Francis Purcell. The painting belongs to a Dutch soldier named Captain Vandael who came to Ireland with King William III. Purcell learns the story attached to the painting from Captain Vandael.
  4. "Minheer" and "mynheer" (which appears in the 1880 version of the story) are variant spellings of the obsolete Dutch word "mijnheer", which means "my lord". A derived word, "meneer", is used in Modern Dutch to mean "mister" or "sir".
  5. A Ghost Story for Christmas is a series of twelve TV movies which were made for the BBC. A new TV movie aired each December between 1971 and 1978. A further four films aired after the series was revived in 2005. Two of the twelve films are original stories. The rest are adaptations of the short stories "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral", "A Warning to the Curious", "Lost Hearts", "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas", "The Ash-tree" "A View from a Hill" "Number 13", "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" and "The Tractate Middoth" by M.R. James and the short story "The Signalman" by Charles Dickens.

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