rachel ruysch
(The hague 1644 – Amsterdam 1750)

 

Still life of flowers, with butterflies, insects, a lizard and toads, beside a pool

 

oil on canvas
signed and dated “Rachel Ruysch / 1687” (lower left)
91 x 61 cm. (35.9 x 24.2 in.)
1687

“Studying with this master [Willem van Aelst] our clever Art Hero developed so quickly in very few years, that she chased after him in the art arena and surpassed his teachings; she then had Nature as her tutor and muse; which she, through tiring study and practice, depicted so naturally and artfully, that she, without doubt, is one of the best artists in the world and exceeded all high expectations.”

Jan van Gool, De nieuwe Schouburg der Nederlantsche Kunstschilders en Schilderessen, vol. 1, 1750-1751, 211.

Today Rachel Ruysch is considered to be the most gifted female still-life painter. Ruysch was born in The Hague in 1664 and came from a distinguished and wealthy family. Her father was an eminent professor of anatomy and botany, as well as a collector of natural curiosities and a gifted amateur painter. Ruysch became a pupil of the still-life painter Willem van Aelst (1627-1683) when she was fifteen and studied with him for four years until his death in 1683. She painted the present still life at the age of 23, when she was heavily influenced by Otto Marseus van Schrieck’s (1614/1620 – 1678) sottobosco (forest floor) paintings and specialised in so-called ‘nature pieces’. Her meticulous eye for detail won her much acclaim in an era when the invention of the microscope sparked enthusiasm for naturalia amongst scientists like her father, artists and collectors.1 Ruysch worked on commission and only painted a few of her highly meticulous works per year.2

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Ruysch is said to have delayed marriage to focus on her career. In 1693, when she was nearly 30, she married fellow painter Juriaen Pool (1665-1745), who joined the lace trade as his primary source of income to support his wife’s talent. While her career flourished, she also bore 10 children.3 In 1709, the couple moved to The Hague where they joined the Guild of Saint Luke and Ruysch became the first female member of the artist’s society Confrerie Pictura.4 From 1708 to 1713, they were both court painters to the Elector Palatine, Johann Wilhelm von der Pfalz (1658-1716), in Düsseldorf. Upon his death in 1716, the family moved to Amsterdam where Ruysch worked until the age of at least 83. In the year of her death, no less than 11 contemporary poets paid tribute to her, as well as her biographer Jan van Gool (1685-1763). However, it was not until this year, 2021, that a painting by Ruysch was hung in the prestigious ‘Gallery of Honour’ in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.5

Notes
1. Peter Mitchell, “Ruysch, Rachel,” last modified 2006, accessed 13 September 2021 from, https://www-oxfordartonline-com.lonlib.idm.oclc.org/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.001.0001/oao-9781884446054-e-7000074728?rskey=RSNEqB.
2. Luc Kooijmans, Ruysch, Rachel, in: Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland, accessed 13 September 2021 from, http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/bwn1780-1830/DVN/lemmata/data/Ruysch, Rachel [13/01/2014].
3. Benezit Dictionary of Artists, “Ruysch, Rachel, Mme Juriaen Pool,” last modified 31 October 2011, accessed 13 September 2021 from, https://www-oxfordartonline-com.lonlib.idm.oclc.org/benezit/view/10.1093/benz/9780199773787.001.0001/acref-9780199773787-e-00158354?rskey=RSNEqB.
4.“Rachel Ruysch,” The National Gallery, accessed 13 September 2021 from https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/rachel-ruysch.
5. Peter Mitchell, “Ruysch, Rachel.”

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with M. Bernard, London;
with Duits, London;
with Galerie Sankt Lucas, The Hague;
H.N.J.C. van Meerten, The Hague, by 1956;
Acquired in The Hague, 1958;
thence by descent to;
Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, London, 27 May 2021, lot 5;
The Klesch Collection.

Unexhibited.

M.H. Grant, Rachel Ruysch 1664-1750 (Leigh-on-Sea: 1956), p. 27, cat. no. 25, reproduced pl. 13 (where listed with dimensions of 91.5 x 71.2 cm.).
M. Berardi, “Science into art: Rachel Ruysch’s early development as a still-life painter” (doct. diss., University of Pittsburgh: 1998), pp. 356-58, reproduced p. 477, plate 48.

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