A Still Life of Flowers - Ruysch, Rachel

Fine Art

Ruysch, Rachel




A Still Life of Flowers

Oil on canvas
18 3/4 x 15 3/4 inches (47,5 x 40 cm)
Signed: Indistinctly signed


Private collection, Germany


Fiori, Cinque secoli di pittura floreale at Biella, Chiostro di San Sebastiano, 21 March – 27 June 2004, Museo del Territorio Biellese, Italy


F. Solinas, in Fiori, Cinque secoli di pittura floreale, Biella 2004, no. 113, p. 283, ill. p.298


Rachel Ruysch was born in 1664 in The Hague. Ruysch’s father was a renowned anatomist who, in 1666, took up a professorship in Amsterdam. He had a celebrated collection of rarities there, and published extensively about it. Ruysch’s mother was a daughter of the architect Pieter Post (who built Huis ten Bosch, the residence of the present Queen of the Netherlands). In 1679, Ruysch became a pupil of Willem van Aelst. In 1693, she married the portrait painter Juriaen Pool (1666-174 5), a union that was blessed with ten children. In 1701, the couple moved to The Hague, where they joined the guild. In 1708, Juriaen and Rachel were appointed court painters of the Elector Palatine Johann Willem in Düsseldorf, who, until his death in 1716, purchased all the work they produced there. In 1716, the family returned to Amsterdam. Ruysch continued to paint until a ripe old age, although her production gradually dwindled. She died in 1750.

Dated work by Ruysch is known from 1681 to 1747, when she was 83 years old.’ Extant work dates from most of the years between 1681 and 1723, peaking numerically in 1690, 1701, and 1715-16 (following a period of few or no dated works after 1712). Rachel’s earliest paintings were a few festoons (early 168os), but mainly herb pieces (1680s); from 1707 on, she painted a number of outdoor fruit pieces. The majority of her oeuvre consists of flower pieces, some of them small posies without a vase. Rachel Ruysch’s work was much esteemed and well paid. At least four portraits of her have survived. Shortly before her death, a collection of poems in her honour, written by eleven of her contemporaries, was published.

In our piece, A Still Life of Flowers, Ruysch has composed a striking assemblage of spring and summer flowers, placed on a narrow stone ledge. A colorful ladybird is displayed prominently in the foreground. Ruysch delighted in the display of foliage with different textures and with different colors produced either by the effect of the seasons or variegated leaves. In this painting one can observe this decorative element, particularly in the autumnal leaves of the cabbage rose. Ruysch excels at placing nuanced color on the white flowers, giving the appearance of a velvety smooth texture. The main colors are white and red, but many transitional hues are introduced via pink and orange. Ruysch has used strong contrasts of light and dark to illuminate the center of the composition, which is usually painted in the lightest and brightest colors. Shadows are cast on the flowers, as on the peonies to the right in the picture. The increasing darkness toward the outer edges provides greater depth to the bouquet. She has evidently made a close study of the effect of light: green leaves often look yellowish in sunlight and dark green in the shade, an observation that is fully appreciated in this painting.

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