Mar. 4 Art Minute: Rachel Ruysch, “Flower Still Life”

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Rachel Ruysch (Dutch, 1664–1750), Flower Still Life. Oil in canvas, about 1726. 29 ¾ by 23 7/8 in. Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1956.57. Gallery 23.

From the caterpillar crawling along the stem of a flower, to the browning leaves riddled with holes by hungry insects, Rachel Ruysch has captured every detail of a wild profusion of cut flowers. Such a painting could be appreciated on two levels. A viewer might simply enjoy the skill of the artist and the luscious arrangement of many different kinds of flowers, some of them not in bloom at the same time in nature. Or a viewer might read a hidden meaning in the image: though captured in full bloom, the flowers will soon wilt and brown, serving as a reminder that beauty fades and all living things must die.

Ruysch was one of a number of successful women artists from the Netherlands in the 17th and early 18th centuries. At the age of 15, she apprenticed to Willem van Aelst, a prominent flower painter. In 1708 she became painter to the court at Düsseldorf, returning to Amsterdam in 1716. Despite having 10 children with her artist husband, Juriaen Pool, she continued to paint throughout her long life.


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