sale, London, Sotheby’s, 27 June 1962, lot 35 (as Rachel Ruysch: sold as one of
a pair), for £2,800 to Speelman
With Edward Speelman, London
From whom acquired by the father of the previous owner
Thence by descent
Private collection, United Kingdom, until 2022
Anonymous sale, Sotheby’s, London, 8 December 2022, lot 439
We are grateful to Dr. Fred G. Meijer for endorsing the attribution to Anna Ruysch after first-hand inspection and for writing the following essay. We are also grateful to Dr. Marianne Berardi for endorsing it on the basis of digital images.
A still life of flowers in a crystal carafe appears upon a marble table partly covered with a dark-purple, gold-fringed tablecloth. The bouquet includes white, red-flamed tulips, carnations, morning glory, anemone, marigold, and a white rose at lower centre, in front of the carafe. On the rose a bluebottle has alighted.
Not much is known about the life of Anna Ruysch, and even less about her artistic career. She was a daughter of the famous professor in anatomy and collector Dr Frederick Ruysch (1638-1731), and Maria Post (1643-1720). Anna was baptized in The Hague on 19 December 1666, and buried in Amsterdam on 7 January 1754, so she lived till age 87. In 1688, she married the Amsterdam merchant Isaak Hellenbroeck (1664- 1749), with whom she had (at least) five children, three of whom were still alive at the time of her death. With her husband, she ran a paint shop on what is now the Damrak in Amsterdam, then known as Op t Water.
Anna was the younger sister of the better-known flower and still-life painter Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750). Rachel Ruysch was apprenticed to the still-life painter Willem van Aelst (1627-1783), in about 1681, and probably somewhat later Anna, at about sixteen years of age, also received some guidance from van Aelst, who died in May 1683. Rachel painted her earliest known dated work in 1681, Anna dated a copy after a still life of a flower posy by her sister, (probably) in 1685[i], so at age eighteen or nineteen.
Only a few signed still lifes by Anna Ruysch are known, all from her early years.[ii] (Also) in 1685 she painted a still life of fruit, of virtually the same measurements as the flower posy, perhaps as a companion.[iii] A second still life of fruit of a similar type is more accomplished and must thus have been painted later[iv]. Until recently, the present flower painting had a companion fruit piece which shows several similarities with the last mentioned still life of fruit[v], but the artist’s palette has become brighter. That work, like the still life under discussion here, was painted on copper, allowing for a particularly refined and detailed treatment. All other known still lifes by Anna Ruysch are on canvas. Characteristic is Anna Ruysch’s treatment of the tablecloth, particularly its thin gold fringes which almost appear to be dancing. The same feature appears in the floral still life discussed here. Another distinct preference of the artist is the profiled marble ledges on which she virtually invariably placed her still lifes.
While it was long assumed that Anna Ruysch stopped painting after her marriage, this is far from likely. The present painting and related works show a distinct development in style and handling, leading to more accomplished results, suggesting a much longer period of activity. While no later signed works are known at present, her testament of 1 September 1732, renewed on 28 February 1741, also testifies to a more substantial production. In it, she left two still lifes of flowers she had painted, signed with a monogram AR, to each of her two daughters, so at that time at least four of her flower paintings were still in family possession. Thus far, no paintings signed with such a monogram have come to light, however.
Several of the later works related to the painting discussed here are quite large, for instance a painting that was on the art market in 1991, and another offered in 1969[vi]. That she did indeed not shy away from larger formats is borne out by an Amsterdam auction catalogue from 1829, which includes a flower painting by her measuring c. 79 x 71 cm.[vii] The previously mentioned paintings which were on the market in 1969 and 1991, and other related works, like the newly found flower painting discussed here also show Anna’s fascination with overblown tulips, usually combined with a choice of other flowers.
This intimate flower painting is an important addition to Anna Ruysch’s relatively small known oeuvre, giving evidence that with her flower paintings she was perhaps not her sister’s competitor, but that, without doubt, she was ranking in the same league.
Fred. G. Meijer Art History, 17 July 2023
[i] Anna Ruysch, Flower Posy, signed and dated 168, oil on canvas, 33.5 x 29.6 cm. Private collection, U.S.A.
[ii] Among them is a signed copy after a painting by Abraham Mignon in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels, inv. no. 2754. Anna’s copy is in the collection of the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe, inv. no. 378.
[iii] Anna Ruysch, Still Life of Fruit, signed and dated 1685, oil on canvas, 34.3 x 30.5 cm, Art market, 1993. The still life of fruit sits rather tightly in the picture plane, however, which suggests that it may have been cropped at some point, in which case it cannot be a pendant to the flower posy.
[iv] Anna Ruysch, Still life of peaches and plums on a ledge with a Red Admiral butterfly, oil on canvas,
34.3 x 30.5 cm. Art market, 1993.
[v] Anna Ruysch, Still life of fruit, oil on copper, 43.6 x 34.2 cm, Art market, 2022
[vi] Anna Ruysch, Floral still life, oil on canvas, 92 x 71.5 cm. Art market, 1991 & Anna Ruysch, Floral still life, oil on canvas, 81.6 x 67.3 cm. Art market, 1969.. The first, sale London, Sotheby’s, 30 October 1991, lot 145 as circle of Rachel Ruysch, the second with Brian Koetser, London, cat. 1969, no. 35, as by Willem van Aelst. Other examples were auctioned at Hampel, Munich, 9 December 2005, lot 250 as by Rachel Ruysch (oil on canvas, 87,9 x 72,4 cm) and another in the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein, inv. no. GE 598, also as by Rachel Ruysch (oil on canvas, 88 x 66 cm). A smaller example is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, inv. no. PD.50-1966 (oil on canvas, 57,5 x 44 cm), and in 2017, the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign IL acquired a flower painting by Anna Ruysch (oil on canvas, 65 x 54 cm).
[vii] Sale collection of Mrs. I. Stinstra, Amsterdam, 2 July 1829, lot 16, ‘A flower piece, painted neatly and tenderly’.