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Still Life with Fruit, Bird's Nest and Insects

Rachel Ruysch (Amsterdam 1664 – Amsterdam 1750)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

1716

Materials

Oil on canvas

Measurements

762 x 571 mm (30 x 22 1/2 in)

Place of origin

Holland

Order this image

Collection

Dudmaston, Shropshire

NT 814164

Summary

Oil painting on canvas, Still Life with Fruit, Bird's Nest and Insects by Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750), signed top left on plinth: Rachel Ruysch 1716. Various fruits, flowers and crops, including grapes, peaches, blackberries and maize are arranged on a floor before a stone plinth (left) and a tree trunk (right). Numerous insects crawl and perch on the fruit and vegetation. A bird's nest containing eggs, one of which is being eaten by a lizard, is at bottom right. The date inscribed by the artist has also been read as '1710', however 1716 is the date given following treatment at the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2011.

Full description

A luscious arrangement of late-season fruit is amassed at the base of a young oak tree. Clusters of black and white Muscat grapes are nestled between plump peaches, unhusked corn and a single, rotund gourd. Encroaching on this display is a rich woodland understory: fungi, thistle, white dead-nettle, forget-me-not and thorny sprays of bramble. Brilliant flashes of red and orange in the form of physalis seed heads, rowan berries and corn kernels enliven this shaded spot. At left, a chipped stone plinth is a singular vestige of what may have once been a formal garden. The scene teems with snails and insects – creatures whose short life spans embody transience and impermanence, the hallmarks of a vanitas. So too do the ripening fruits, some on the cusp of over-maturing and rotting. White mould blooms on a grape; the dewy flesh of a peach has split. At lower right, a miniature drama unfolds: a lizard feasts upon a speckled egg in a bird’s nest. Still Life with Fruit, Bird's Nest and Insects is a masterful study of earthly abundance and forces of decay, the promise of life and the certainty of death. It is the work of Rachel Ruysch (1664–1740), one of the most admired flower painters of the Dutch Golden Age and perhaps the most successful Dutch woman artist in history. In a period where few women painted professionally, Ruysch led a lucrative career that spanned nearly seven decades, saw her become the first female member of the Confrerie Pictura in The Hague and named court painter to the Elector Palatine in Dusseldorf – all while mothering ten children. The technical virtuosity and scientific precision with which Ruysch executes this scene is a testament to her upbringing. Ruysch’s maternal grandfather was the renowned architect Peter Post (1608–69) who designed the royal residence at Huis ten Bosch in The Hague and her great-uncle was the landscape painter Frans Post, whose paintings of Brazil made him the first European-trained landscape painter in the Americas (See for instance Frans Post’s A Village in Brazil of c.1675, in the collection of Ham House, Surrey, NT 1139908). Her father, Frederik Ruysch, was an eminent botanist and anatomist. Ruysch would have had access to an unparalleled collection of plants in Amsterdam’s Hortus Botanicus where her father was Keeper. She also learned to embalm and artfully arrange specimens for her father’s ‘Cabinet’, a five-room museum of anatomical and botanical curiosities in Amsterdam. Ruysch’s first-hand botanical knowledge is evident in Still Life with Fruit, Bird's Nest and Insects. She expertly recreates the vein-like patterns (reticulate venation) of foliage, including both the surface and underside of leaves. The arrangement, however, is anything but ‘natural’; the peculiar ecology and composition of this woodland tableau is wholly staged, akin to one of her father’s elaborate dioramas. The painting is in the collection at Dudmaston, an early 18th-century country house situated on ancient woodland in Shropshire. It hangs in the Library alongside other Dutch flower paintings inherited by Lady Rachel Labouchere (1908 – 1996), the last chatelaine of Dudmaston, who, in addition to sharing a first name with Ruysch, also trained as a botanical artist. Gabriella de la Rosa 2021

Provenance

Darby collection; Francis Darby (1783 - 1850) of Sunnyside, Coalbrookdale; given by Rachel Katherine Hamilton Russell, Lady Labouchere (1908 – 1996) along with the Dudmaston estate in 1978

Credit line

Dudmaston, The Labouchere Collection (National Trust)

Marks and inscriptions

4S7BC (stamped)

Makers and roles

Rachel Ruysch (Amsterdam 1664 – Amsterdam 1750), artist

References

Prized Possessions: Dutch Paintings from National Trust Houses (exh. cat.), Holburne Museum, Bath 25 May - 16 Sep 2018; Mauritshuis, The Hague, 11 Oct 2018 - 6 Jan 2019; Petworth House, West Sussex, 26 Jan - 24 Mar 2019., pp.24-5

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