A Tribute to “the Amsterdam Pallas”

Posy of flowers, with a red admiral butterfly, on a marble ledge, c. 1700, by Rachel Ruysch. Private collection; source, Wikimedia.

Three hundred fifty-five years ago on this day, June 3, Rachel Ruysch was baptized in The Hague. The granddaughter of an architect and the daughter of an eminent professor of anatomy and botany, she became one of the most successful flower painters of the Dutch Golden Age. She was known as “the Amsterdam Pallas,” “Holland’s art prodigy,” and “our subtle art heroine.” Her name is not as familiar to art-lovers today as that of Rembrandt; but in her lifetime, she enjoyed greater commercial success than he did. Rembrandt’s works rarely fetched more than 500 guilders, whereas Ruysch sold her paintings for as much as 750–1200 guilders.

Family portrait with flower still-life in the making, 1716, flowers by Rachel Ruysch and portraits by her husband, Juriaen Pool. Held at Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf; source, Wikimedia.

Ruysch practiced drawing from the collection of mineral and botany samples and skeletons in her father’s private museum. Frederik Ruysch encouraged his daughter’s artistic pursuits. She later taught him, and her sister Anna (1666–1754), how to paint. At age 15 she was apprenticed to Willem van Aelst, an established flower painter. His studio overlooked that of Maria van Oosterwijck (1630–93), another successful Dutch woman artist of the period. 


Tree trunk surrounded by flowers, and butterflies and other animals, 1685, by Rachel Ruysch. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

By the time she was 18, Rachel Ruysch was selling her own work. At age 29, she married Juriaen Pool, also an artist, with whom she had ten children. After her marriage, she continued to work as an artist; she was one of the top selling Dutch artists of her day. Her compositions included flowers, fruit and woodlands. Often she grouped together flowers that do not bloom at the same time in nature. Her paintings are carefully detailed. Sometimes she enlivened her them with small animals—birds and lizards—as well as beetles, butterflies and bees.

Fruit, a nest, a lizard and insects in a wood, first half of the 18th century, by Rachel Ruysch. Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe; source, Wikimedia.

She and her husband were both members of the Guild of St. Luke in The Hague; she was also the first female member of the Confrerie Pictura in that city. From 1708 to 1716, she served as court painter to Johann Wilhelm, the Elector Palatine of Bavaria. After the Elector’s death, she continued to paint for an international clientele.

Flowers in a Glass Vase, 1704, by Rachel Ruysch. Detroit Institute of Arts.

Rachel Ruysch’s career spanned six decades. On the painting that scholars believe was her last, Ruysch recorded her age in her signature: she was 83. Experts estimate that she produced over 250 paintings. Today, many of these works are in private collections. But others are held in museums in (at least) Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, the United States, England, Scotland, the Czech Republic, and Sweden. Many of her paintings can be viewed online here.

Flower Still Life, 1710, by Rachel Ruysch. Private collection; source, Wikimedia.

Learn more about Rachel Ruysch in this interesting and informative video presentation by Nina Cahill, McCrindle Curatorial Fellow of Paintings 1600–1800 at the National Gallery in London. She discusses Ruysch’s family history; life with her artist husband; her painting styles and techniques; and her long career as a still life painter. 

Happy birthday, Rachel Ruysch!

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