A Birthday Tribute to “the Amsterdam Pallas”
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.” Today, her name is not as familiar to art-lovers 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
As of November 2020, Art Herstory offers a Rachel Ruysch note card! Visit the shop for details.
More about Dutch Women Artists:
Alida Withoos: Creator of beauty and of visual knowledge, by Catherine Powell
A Clara Peeters for the Mauritshuis, by Dr. Quentin Buvelot
Floral Still Life, 1726—A Masterpiece by Rachel Ruysch, by Dr. Lawrence W. Nichols
Gesina ter Borch: Artist, not Amateur (Guest post by Dr. Nicole E. Cook)
The Protofeminist Insects of Giovanna Garzoni and Maria Sibylla Merian (Guest post by Prof. Emma Steinkraus)
More Art Herstory blog posts:
Women in Zoological Art and Illustration (Guest post by Ann Sylph, Librarian of the Zoological Society of London)
Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists (Guest post by Dr. Elizabeth Sutton)
The Priceless Legacy of Artemisia Gentileschi: A Curator’s Perspective (Guest post by Dr. Judith W. Mann)
‘Bright Souls’: A London Exhibition Celebrating Mary Beale, Joan Carlile, and Anne Killigrew (Guest post by Dr. Laura Gowing)
New Adventures in Teaching Art Herstory (Guest post by Dr. Julia Dabbs)
Renaissance Women Painting Themselves (Guest Post by Dr. Katherine A. McIver)
Why Do Old Mistresses Matter Today? (Guest Post by Dr. Merry Wiesner-Hanks)