A Posy of Flowers on a marble Ledge
Signed, lower right: Rachel Ruysch
On canvas, 13 x 10⅜ ins. (33 x 26.4 cm)
(possibly) Joseph Vallette and others sale, Amsterdam, 26-27 August 1807, No. 185. “Lying on a marble table are various pretty flowers of a variety of sorts, and flower bulbs, very naturally and tenderly rendered. 13 x 10 in. Canvas on panel. Sold for 21 florins to Coclaer” i
Kunsthandel S. Nijstad, The Hague, inv. no. 73143, 1973-4
Private collection, Germany, until 2009
With Johnny Van Haeften Limited, London, 2009
Private collection, United Kingdom, 2009-2017
Exhibition catalogue, Dutch and Flemish Old Master Paintings, Catalogue Seventeen, 2009, no. 31.
Delft Fine Arts Fair, with Nijstad, 1974
London, Johnny Van Haeften Limited, Dutch and Flemish Old Master Paintings, 2009, no. 31.
To be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the work of Rachel Ruysch by Dr. Marianne Berardi
This intimate still life depicts a posy of spring flowers placed casually near the edge of a marble ledge. The little bunch is comprised of a blue hyacinth, complete with bulb and roots, two varieties of auriculas (ii), a bright blue hepatica and several vibrant yellow and white crocus blooms. The flowers are interspersed with variegated crocus leaves and the foliage of auriculas. The informality of the arrangement gives the impression that the flowers have just been picked from the garden and brought indoors. Drops of water glisten on leaves and petals and a small band of insects populates the brightly coloured blooms, including a fly, some ants, an ichneumon wasp and a damsel fly. A white butterfly, attracted by the sweet-smelling hyacinth, sips nectar from a one of its floret. The rich harmony of red and yellow tints is set off by cooler tones of blue, green and white.
Rachel Ruysch achieved an international reputation in her lifetime and was the most celebrated flower painter of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Her fame was eclipsed only by Jan van Huysum (1682-1749), whose decorative flower pieces, painted in vivid colours against a light background, became the fashion in the eighteenth century. Ruysch began dating paintings in 1681 while still a teenager and remained active until three years before her death, proudly adding her age of eighty-three to the signatures and dates of her last known works, a pair of flower paintings from 1647 (iii). Although her output is not large by the standards of her male contemporaries, it is extremely impressive for a mother of ten children. Indeed, she must have been a woman of prodigious energy!
Ruysch’s own style is firmly rooted in the seventeenth-century tradition. Her passionate interest in flowers and insects was doubtless kindled at an early age by her father Frederick Ruysch, a professor of anatomy and botany, who was also a gifted amateur artist and collector of natural curiosities. While still a girl, Rachel Ruysch became a pupil of the celebrated still-life painter Willem van Aelst (1627-1683), who had previously trained Maria van Oosterwijck (1630-1693). Her master’s influence is very apparent in her early flower and fruit still lifes, produced between 1681 and 1700, especially in her supple brushwork and her preference for asymmetrically composed bouquets, set against a dark backdrop. Occasionally, she also painted plants and fruits in a woodland setting which are reminiscent of the forest floor still lifes of Otto Marseus van Schrieck (1619/0-1678) and Abraham Mignon (1640-1679).
Although Rachel Ruysch is probably best known for her large, sumptuous vases of flowers, she is no less exquisite on a small scale. Her paintings of simple posies on a marble ledge, of the type seen here, are derived from van Aelst and were executed early in her career. Dr. Marianne Berardi dates the present painting to the mid-to-late 1690s and observes that “the signature is closest to the way she signed around 1700”(iv). Stylistically and compositionally it is comparable with a number of other works from this period. The paintings in this group are all characterised by their intimate scale and upright format. Similarly composed, each one depicts an informal bunch of flowers lying on a marble ledge, though each is comprised of different varieties of plants. Illuminated from in front, the flowers and leaves emerge as if spot-lit from the dark, indeterminate background: a soft chiaroscuro defines depth and volume. The artist invariably allows a few leaves and flowers to tumble forward over the front of the ledge, bringing them close up to the picture plane and enhancing the picture’s sense of immediacy.
Ruysch seems to have abandoned this type of small-scale posy sometime in the 1690s, turning her attention to more ambitious displays. However, later in her career, after about 1739, she returned once again to smaller still lifes, depicting a few flowers scattered on a ledge or modest bouquets arranged in a vase. By this date, her still lifes are subjected to brighter lighting conditions and her palette has changed to a higher key.
Although all flowers in paintings can be interpreted as symbols of transience owing to the ephemeral nature of living plants, Rachel Ruysch rarely seems to have stressed the vanitas aspect of her paintings. Rather, her close observation of the natural world reveals her love of the beauty and variety of plant and insect life.
Rachel Ruysch was born in The Hague in 1664 to distinguished parents. Her mother Maria Post was the daughter of the architect Pieter Post (1608-1669). Her father Frederick Ruysch (1638-1731) was an eminent anatomist and botanist. In 1667, the family moved from The Hague to Amsterdam. Rachel displayed an interest in painting at an early age. According to her own account, at the age of fifteen she became a pupil of Willem van Aelst in Amsterdam, remaining there until his death in 1683. In 1693, she married the portrait painter Juriaen Pool (1665-1745), with whom she had ten children. In 1701, both artists became members of the Confrérie Pictura in The Hague, although they continued to live in Amsterdam. In 1708, husband and wife were appointed court painters to the Elector Palatine, Johann Wilhelm, who held court in Düsseldorf. During this period they lived in Amsterdam, from where they dispatched commissioned works to the Elector in Germany until his death in 1716. Ruysch continued working to a ripe old age and was still painting until three years before her death on 12 August 1750. The artist was greatly esteemed during her lifetime and her paintings commanded high prices. No less than eleven of the foremost poets of the day sang her praises in an anthology of odes (Dichtlovers voor de uit muntende schilderesse mejuffrouwe Rachel Ruisch …), published in the year of her death.
We are grateful to Dr. Marianne Berardi for providing this information about the picture’s provenance.
Significantly, she notes that the present painting is the only work known to her in which the artist
includes flowers attached to their bulbs. Private communication 21 October 2009.
ii Rachel Ruysch is credited with introducing the auricular into flower painting, a flower which remained
popular throughout the 18th century. See: “For Love of Flora. A Brief Look at Seventeenth-Century
Flower Painters” by B. Brenninkmeyer-De-Rooij in Bouquets from the Golden Age, The Mauritshuis,
The Hague, 1992, p. 29.
iii Rachel Ruysch, Flowers in a Vase on a marble Ledge, a pair, on canvas, each 27x 24 cm, one signed
and dated AE 83 1747, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille, inv. nos. 684 & 685.
iv We are grateful to Dr. Marianne Berardi for her assistance in dating this work. Private communication
21 October 2009.
(The Hague 1664 - 1750 Amsterdam)
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