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Lot 53: Rachel Ruysch , The Hague 1664 - 1750 Amsterdam A Still Life with Devil's Trumpet, a Cactus, a Fig Branch, Honeysuckle and Other Flowers in a Blue Glass Vase Resting on a Ledge oil on canvas

Est: $600,000 USD - $800,000 USDSold:
Sotheby'sJanuary 24, 2008New York, NY, US

Item Overview


signed lower right Rachel Ruysch oil on canvas


measurements note 18 5/8 by 15 3/4 in.; 47.5 by 40 cm.

Artist or Maker


Col. M. H. Grant, Rachel Ruysch 1664-1750, Leigh-on-Sea 1956, p.40, no.173.


Dr. Sidney Martin, London;
By whom sold, Christie's, London, December 12, 1924, lot 32;υ1
Private Collection, Switzerland;
Sale, Christie's, London, July 10, 1998, lot 34;
With Richard Green at the Biennale des Antiquaires, Paris, 1998, where acquired by the present collector.


Rachel Ruysch came from an educated and wealthy background that helped prepare her for her career as a painter of still lifes. Her father was Frederik Ruysch, a renowned anatomist and botanist and her mother the daughter of the architect Peter Post. At age fifteen Ruysch began her studies with Willem van Aelst, whose style is reflected in her early works. At his death in 1683, she embarked on an independent career, which lasted some 64 years. On her last known dated paintings, a pair of flower pictures in Lille (Grant 197 and 198), she proudly added her age, 83, to the signature and date. In the course of her career she married the portraitist Juriaen Pool, had ten children and was named, with her husband, as court painter to the Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm in Düsseldorf. The Still Life with Devil's Trumpet is a deceptively simple-looking work probably dating from the early to mid-1690s. A relatively small bouquet of flowers and some fruit fill a plain but strikingly blue vase. The background is dark and largely undefined, a compositional device made popular by Jan Davidsz. de Heem, though Ruysch makes significant changes, splitting the shelf and bringing forward the right side so that it appears to push further into our space, and adding a cornice at the top that runs diagonally toward the viewer. She fills the vase itself with a combination of familiar and exotic blooms. The large white blossom at the center is a devil's trumpet (Datura metel), a plant from India, the small red flowers falling forward off the shelf at the left appear to be kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos), native to Australia, and the large branching cactus at the back was also unknown in Europe. Mixed in are the more common honeysuckle above, marguerites at the left and the large red trumpet creeper at the right. As Berardi shows, Ruysch's choice of flowers was greatly influenced by her father and his work as a botanist.υ2 In 1685 he was named supervisor of the Amsterdam Botanical Garden; his appointment coincided with increased interest in, and financial support of the garden by the city of Amsterdam. Frederik Ruysch helped transform the institution from a purely medicinal collection to a center of botanic research. In the early 1690s, just as her father was preparing a catalogue of the rare plants in the garden together with Jan Commelin, Rachel Ruysch first began introducing exotic plants into her paintings. The composition is remarkably dynamic. The blossom of the devil's trumpet points up and out, while its large leaves fall over into the viewer's space, as does the small kangaroo paw. Ruysch balances this movement with the arms of the cactus that reach back into space and with the shadowed stems at the right. In content and composition Still Life with Devil's Trumpet is perhaps closest to a painting from the Weld Collection (Grant 133), which Berardi dates to circa 1691-95.υ3 The Weld picture is somewhat larger (21 3/4 by 16 in.), but at its center is the same dramatic white devil's trumpet, which also forms the heart of another bouquet by Ruysch from the same period in the collection of the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn.υ4 The blossom, however, faces in the opposite direction and is balanced by the leaves of a pineapple rather than a cactus. Ruysch's technique during this period was remarkably refined, describing the surfaces of the flowers through fine brush strokes and layers of thin glazes. In Still Life with Devil's Trumpet she contrasts the soft petals of the devil's trumpet with its tough leaves, which are shown from the back to reveal the thick veins. At the left the smooth skin of fig and the bright red kernels of the mysterious yellow fruit contrast with the matte blossoms of the flowers. All around is shadow so that the bright flowers and transparent vase seem to glow out at the viewer. Rachel Ruysch's enormous talents were already recognized in her life time: she was lauded by poets, sat for portraits and Jan van Gool accorded her one of the longest biographies in his New Theater of Dutch Painters, published during the last year of her life. Her popularity continues today, as her skills are praised in scholarly and popular publications and her still lifes highly sought after in the market. We are grateful to Marianne Berardi for her assistance in cataloguing this painting, which she will be including in her forthcoming monograph on Rachel Ruysch. 1 M. H. Grant, Rachel Ruysch 1664-1750, Leigh-on-Sea 1956, p. 40, no.173, incorrectly gives the provenance as Brewerton, who was another consignor in the same sale.
2 M. Berardi, Science into Art: Rachel Ruysch's Early Development as a Still-Life Painter, Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh 1998, pp. 110-16.
3 Ibid., p. 493, plate 64.
4 Ibid., p. 481, plate 52; Grant no. 67.

Auction Details

Important Old Master Paintings Including European Works of Art

January 24, 2008, 12:00 PM EST

1334 York Avenue, New York, NY, 10021, US