Rachel Ruysch: Blending Science, Nature and Art

Article excerpt

Artists in Holland in the seventeenth century were prolific in the production of flower, still life and genre paintings. The tulip craze" had created within the Dutch a passion for rare, exotic flowers. For those unable to purchase bulbs or flowers, lifelike artwork became a practical and often less expensive substitution. This desire for flora continued to flourish in the eighteenth century.

A Budding Artist

Rachel Ruysch was fortunate enough to be raised in a home that fostered her talents as an artist. Her father was a leading botanist and amateur painter; her mother was the daughter of a prominent architect. Ruysch's training began at the age of fifteen when she was apprenticed to Willem van Aelst, one of the most gifted still life and flower painters in Holland.

Even in the eighteenth century it was unusual for a young woman to leave her family to serve as an apprentice to a master artist. Within three years, Ruysch was producing independent, signed paintings and was receiving public attention for her achievements.

At the age of twenty-nine, Ruysch married portrait painter Juriaen Pool. It was uncommon at this time for a married woman to have a career outside of her home and particularly unusual for a woman to be an artist. But, Ruysch's father and her husband encouraged her to continue her career. A prestigious and stable clientele made it possible for Ruysch to provide income for her family while balancing domestic obligations for her ten children.

An Enduring Reputation

Ruysch is best known for her paintings of flowers. She also produced still lifes with lush fruit. Her reputation has not been diminished by criticism or by the passage of time. Ruysch was a meticulous, methodical painter who took deliberate efforts to work as realistically as possible. She literally painted petal by petal. Records indicate that Ruysch spent seven years completing three paintings for her daughter's dowry. …