Rachel Ruysch
Biography of Dutch Flower Painter: Vanitas, Memento Mori Pictures.

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Basket of Flowers (1711) Uffizi.
By Rachel Ruysch one of the
best still life painters.

Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750)

The greatest of all female Dutch Realist artists, Rachel Ruysch specialised in flowers pictures and still life painting, in the tradition of other women artists of the Dutch Golden Age such as Judith Leyster (1609-60), Maria van Oosterwijk (1630-93), and Maria Sybille Merian (1647-1717). Inspired by the wonderful Dutch Realism of Jan Davidsz de Heem, some fifty years before, Ruysch's own paintings date from 1682, and despite taking time to bear 10 children, she became one of the top selling Dutch artists of her day. Along with Jan van Huysum (1682-1749), Ruysch commanded some of the highest prices for flower paintings in Holland and was represented in collections throughout Europe. Her oil painting was lively, and employed highly effective chiaroscuro effects. Dutch artists from the early 17th century tended to arrange flowers in set displays, whereas Ruysch arranged them in different seasons, arranging blooms in a haphazard manner, which showed influences of Rococo art.

For the best still life painters:
Frans Snyders (1579-1657)
Still life painter from Antwerp.
Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-83)
Utrecht School of Dutch Realism.
Willem Kalf (1619-93)
Pronkstilleven Paintings.
Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-78)
Interiors, genre works, still lifes.

For details and information about
the 17th Century style of easel-art
which flourished in Holland, see:
Dutch Baroque Art (c.1600-80).

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.

For the best art, see:
Greatest Paintings Ever.

Early Artistic Training

Ruysch was born in Amsterdam in 1664, where her father Frederik Ruysch was a well known professor of Botany and an amateur painter. Frederik gathered a huge variety of plants, and his daughter was influenced by their beauty and qualities from a young age. At the age of 15, Ruysch became apprenticed to the Delft painter Willem van Aelst (1627-83). Van Aelst had served as court painter to Ferdinando II de Medici, and specialised in the genre of flower painting and still-life. On the "hierarchy of genres", flowers were considered to be of lower value than other genres. Indeed all still lifes were ranked last in importance after history painting, portrait art, genre-works, and landscapes. In Holland, however, still lifes and genre painting of the Dutch Realist school proved highly popular with the rising professional, merchant and middle classes.



Artistic Career

In 1693 Ruysch married the portrait painter Juriaen Pool the younger (1665-1745). As well as producing a large family of ten children, they each enjoyed a thriving art career. In 1701 they joined the Guild of St Luke's, an organisation that regulated and promoted the work of artists. Ruysch's style of painting and choice of subject rarely changed throughout her career. Her flowers seem to glow with an inner light, even though their delicate petals and overgrown blooms show signs of the ravages of time. Still lifes portraying decay, or other similar symbolism belong to a genre known as vanitas painting or Memento Mori, as exemplified by artists like Harmen van Steenwyck (1612-56). Though still life has lost most of this symbolism today, it remains a popular subject with many artists. Examples of works by Rachel Ruysch include A Vase of Flowers (1706, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) and Basket of Flowers (1711, Uffizi, Florence).

Sometimes Ruysch enlivened blooms by including insects, birds and reptiles as in Flowers, Fruit, and Insects (1716, Palazzo Pitti, Florence). In later years Ruysch served as court painter to Johann Wilhelm of Bavaria, where she remained until 1716. The flowers she painted were popular and exotic; a status symbol among the middle wealthy classes. In 1716 Ruysch returned to Holland, where she remained painting flower pictures for clients until her death at a grand old age of 85.

Despite the changes in attitudes toward still-life and realism, Rachel Ruysch's works remain popular today, and particularly so in poster art form. Originals of her best Baroque paintings can be found in many of the best art museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The National Gallery London, the Uffizi, Florence and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

• For biographies of celebrated European artists, see: Old Masters.
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