Rachel Ruysch was a Dutch still-life painter, specialised in flowers. She had a very successful career that spanned over six decades and is due to this that she became the best documented woman painter of the Dutch Golden Age.
Ruysch was born in The Hague. Her father was a scientist and a professor of botany and anatomy, he had a vast collection of animal skeletons, and mineral and botany samples that Rachel began to paint at a young age, to practice and improve her drawing skills. At that time, she already preferred to paint flowers and insects. Working from the samples she matched and even surpassed her father’s ability to depict nature with great accuracy. Later, she even taught him and her sister, Anna Ruysch, how to paint.
When she was 15 years old, she was apprenticed to Willem van Aelst, a prominent flower painter in Amsterdam, whose studio looked out over the studio of other flower painter, Maria van Oosterwijck. She studied with him until his death in 1683. Besides painting techniques, he taught her how to arrange a bouquet in a vase so it would look spontaneous and less formalised, this helped her to produce a more realistic and three-dimensional effect in her paintings. At the age of 18, Ruysch was producing and selling independently signed work.
In 1693, she married the portrait painter Juriaen Pool and they had 10 children. She continued to paint and produce commissions for an international circle of patrons throughout her marriage and adult life. Ruysch continued to work after her marriage mostly because her contribution to the family’s income allowed them to hire help to care for their children.
It is unknown whether she was a member of the Amsterdam Guild of Saint Luke. In 1701 she and her husband became members of The Hague Painter’s Guild and in 1708, Ruysch was invited to work for the court in Düsseldorf and serve as court painter to Johan Wilhelm, Elector Palatine. She obtained a contract for works painted at home that she periodically brought to Düsseldorf. She continued to work for him and his wife until the prince’s death in 1716.
Work and Style:
Ruysch had a very good understanding of drawing as well as the techniques of earlier traditions, which improved her paintings abilities. In a time when women were expected to participate only in those art forms that were traditionally practiced by women, such as sewing and spinning, she achieved international recognition, and managed to build and maintain a strong reputation that lasts even after her death.
Her early works presented several forest floors pictures with small animals, reptiles, butterflies, and fungi. Later she adopted the flower painting as her main concern and continued with it until her death, this continuing with the 17th-century style down to the middle of the following century.
According to art historians, Ruysch invented her own style. Her work has a playful composition and brilliant colours as part of rococo movement. The backgrounds of her paintings are usually dark following the fashion flower painting of the second half of the 17th century. And her asymmetrical compositions with drooping flowers and wild stems created paintings that seemed to possess a great energy about them.
She paid extensive attention to details; every peal was created painstakingly with delicate brushwork. Her works present the observation of each flower in an extremely naturalistic way, composed into an elaborate arrangement that would be very difficult to achieve in nature, since the flowers would not support each other so well under such an arrangement. Her work had in common with the flower pieces of the last third of the 17th century that the colours of the flowers are much more carefully balanced, than in the earlier paintings. The symbolism of each flower was elaborately developed in the 17th century, but most of it concerns to the introduction of a single flower into a Vanitas piece.
Several art historians considered her as one of the most talented still-life painters in the history of art.
- In 1699, in The Hague she was offered the membership in the Confrerie Pictura as their first female member.
- By her death, at the age of 86, she had produced hundreds of paintings, of which more than 250 have been documented or are attributed to her. based on her dated works it was established that she painted from the age of 15 until she was 83, just few years before her death. The art historians were able to affirm this because she included her age when signing her paintings.
- She enjoyed great fame and reputation in her lifetime. When she died 11 poets paid their respects with poems about her.
- During her lifetime she sold for prices as high as 750-1200 guilders.
- In 1999 a painting by Rachel Ruysch was discovered in a farmhouse in Normandy and was sold at auction for 2.9 million French francs, about US$ 508,000.