Rachel Ruysch achieved great fame with her contemporaries and was considered
to be the greatest flower painter of her time. She was a student of Willem van
Aelst, but she would soon develop her own style of late baroque method of
painting, which she derived in from the work of Jan Davidsz. De Heem. Ruysch
signed many of her works, she would also include the date on some of the paintings she made later in her life. This provides evidence that her career
which lasted almost 70 years would undergo changes in the style in which she
painted, but, her skill as an artist never faltered.
Ruysch was born in 1664 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Her father was a professor
of anatomy and botany in Amsterdam, her mother was the daughter of an architect.
Ruysch displayed an artistic talent at a very young age; her parents recognized
her talent and sent her to study with the well-respected painter Willem van
Aelst when she turned 15. When she was 18 she had produced several beautiful
paintings, and started to teach her sister how to paint. She produced a number
of still-lifes of plants and fruits in a woodland setting, often with a variety
of snakes, toads, moths, grasshoppers and other animals, probably working from
specimens in her father’s collection. Ruysch had many opportunities to study her
father's extensive collection of paintings; this is evident from her knowledge
of botany and zoology she showed in her paintings.
In her early career, in the 1680s, Ruysch had been intrigued by the artwork
of Otto Marseus van Schrieck. She had met him through de Heem, as well as
through her teacher, van Aelst. Learning her skills from van Aelst was pivotal
for Ruysch's artistic career. His innovation of asymmetrical spiraling
compositions would become Ruysch's hallmark as she further developed this technique
to add energy and vibrancy to her paintings.
Her accomplishments, stature, and success made her personal life even more
remarkable. In 1693, when she was 29, she married Juriaen Pool, who was also a
painter; they would have ten children together. Her responsibilities as a wife
and a mother, did not keep her from painting well into her 80's. In total, she
would produce over 100 signed paintings.
Rachel and family would move to The Hague in 1701, where Ruysch and her
husband would become members of the Guild of Painters. In 1708 Ruysch and her
husband were summoned to go to the German courts, where they served as Court
Painters to the Elector Palatine of Bavaria in Düsseldorf. After his death in
1716, they would return to Holland, where Ruysch would remain until her death
in 1750 at age 86.
Ruysch's smaller paintings of posies and other flowers lying on a marble
ledge were taken from van Aelst. But, her outdoor scenes were developed in her
own unique manner. Her sister, Anna Ruysch who was also a painter, had very few
paintings that were truly her own, there is little record of her sister other
than a copy she made of Abraham Mignon’s Woodland Scene with a Squirrel.
Her compositions were quite different from the compact, symmetrical
arrangements of Clara Peeters and other flower painters of the early 17th
century. Ruysch's flower paintings are not only scientifically accurate
descriptions of flowers; they are expressions of form, color, and
Drawing on her studies of her father's collections, she created exquisitely detailed portraits of rare blossoms in an asymmetrical composition that is
further emphasized by vastly curving stems and dramatically lit flowers against
a dark background. While staging brightly lit flowers against a dark background
was a common format in flower painting, Ruysch's backgrounds hint at an
architectural setting which was a new trend among late 17th century flower
painters in Amsterdam. The evolution of her work is shown in a series
of paintings in the Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam.
Ruysch also used wooded settings but was innovative in filling the foreground
with a still life so large that the background landscape is only slightly
noticed. Whether painting fruit, flowers, insects, or animals, she would render
each element with great attention to detail and accuracy. Ruysch added
her own unique style and considerable artistic talent to the legacy of Dutch flower
painters, which is why Ruysch was considered to be the last great flower painter.
Ruysch died on August 12, 1750 in Amsterdam, at the age of 86.
She led a long and very fulfilling life, as a wife, a mother, and one of the
greatest female artists of her era. The demand for Ruysch's paintings has
not diminished since her death over 250 years ago.
Many of her paintings are still displayed in museums around the world. Such
- Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge, England
- National Gallery, London, England
- National Gallery of Victoria, Australia
- Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
- San Diego Museum of Art, California
- Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
- National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
More information on other lesser known female artists can be
Source: Women And The Art World. 2nd ed. :
Alpine Publishers, 1971.