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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 texture.

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 as:

  • 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 found here


Source: Women And The Art World. 2nd ed. : Alpine Publishers, 1971.

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