To continue our Art + Science series, we studied the work of Rachel Ruysch. She was born in Amsterdam into a wealthy and prominent family of Dutch artists, architects and scientists. Her father, Frederik Ruysch, was an eminent scientist and professor of anatomy and botany. He possessed a well-known collection of rare natural history specimens, which Rachel helped catalog and record. He encouraged her artistic talents, careful observation of the natural world and scientifically accurate renderings of plants and flowers. He had a vast collection of animal skulls, insects, and botany examples that the young Rachel would draw. Frederik’s collections included a five-room “Cabinet of Curiosities” that became a tourist attraction in Amsterdam. This chamber featured embalmed and wax-injected organs, animals, plants, and countless other oddities which Rachel posed in artful dioramas. At age fifteen, Ruysch began an apprenticeship with famous still life painter Willem van Aelst and by eighteen, she created her first professional still life paintings which were the beginning of her long and successful career. From Van Aelst, Rachel learned not only how to paint the flowers faithfully, but also how to position the still life bouquets into spontaneous, and less formal arrangements which contributed to the almost realistic three-dimensional look of her works. By the time Ruysch was 18 she was selling signed works independently, which was quite unheard of because very few women were professional artists in the 1600s. She was known to blend botanical specimens from various places around the world and incompatible blooming seasons into wildly fantastical scenes which included forest floor depictions featuring butterflies, reptiles and other small animals and fungi. She was meticulous in capturing light and shadow in the life-like details. The masterful compositions included drooping flowers and wild stems with drying leaves and overripe fruit, alluding to the transience of nature and the mortality of all living things.
At the age of 29, Rachel Ruysch married Amsterdam portrait painter Juriaen Pool and started having a family. She was so well-established by the time she married that she kept her maiden name. Throughout her marriage, including raising 10 children, she continued to paint and produce commissions and attracted wealthy patrons, including Duke Johann Wilhelm II in Düsseldorf, who offered her the position as Court Painter. Ruysch enjoyed success and fame throughout her lifetime. During the 17th century, the era of Tulip mania, the Dutch were obsessively interested in flowers and gardening, so paintings such as hers that spotlighted the intense beauty of nature were in high demand. She is considered one of the most successful artists of the Dutch Golden Age. Contemporary Dutch writers called her “Holland’s art prodigy”.
We used chalk pastels against a black background to
create these colorful and vibrant pieces.
SATURDAY TABOR CLASS