More than the Sum of its Parts
Around 1680 a change in style can be seen in the world of painting. Dutch realism made way for art inspired by classical antiquity. Gillemans and Rijsbraeck are two artists who represent this new fashion and who showed in their still lifes, moreover, that the result of fruitful collaboration can sometimes produce more than the sum of its parts.
At the onset of the last quarter of the seventeenth century, a new generation of artists emerged who preferred a more refined manner of painting. It was no longer the world in which they lived, but the world of classical culture that presented the main source of inspiration for them. This fashion had arrived from France, which had emerged as the most powerful country in Europe under Louis XIV. There a classical style had developed whose idealistic image of the world was the perfect tool for the propaganda of the Sun King.
The French style spread across the continent, especially after Louis XIV brought an end to the religious freedom of France’s Protestants in 1685 by revoking the so-called Edict of Nantes. Over half a million French Huguenots found themselves with no option than to leave their homeland. Around 100,000, including many artists and craftsmen, came to settle in the Dutch Republic. Undoubtedly the most famous of these was the architect and interior designer Daniël Marot (1661-1752), who introduced the Louis XIV style to the Low Countries. It is perhaps interesting to note that it was precisely in the time of Stadholder King William III that the style promoted by his greatest enemy Louis XIV was dominating Europe.
The new classical style was promoted in art-historical tracts. In the Netherlands it was Gérard de Lairesse, a painter originally from LiPge, who played a key role in this development. Having lost his sight he turned to teaching, lecturing on the theory of art in the art room at Amsterdam’s Town Hall. His ideas were subsequently published in two volumes: Grondlegginghe der Teekenkonst (‘Principles of drawing’ 1701) and Groot Schilderboeck (‘Large book of painting’ 1707). According to the late-seventeenth-century theory of art nature had to be shaped and corrected to form an ideal image. Unlike earlier seventeenth-century art, no room was allowed for the inclusion of moral messages or allegories. Whereas a tree depicted by Van Ruisdael, for example, might suggest the transience of life, there could be no place for decay in the idealised nature of classical art.
According to theory
Two paintings that illustrate this perfectly are the works shown here by Pieter Rijsbraeck and Jan Pauwel Gillemans II. Both pendants show a landscape by Rijsbraeck and a fruit still life by Gillemans.
Pieter Rijsbraeck painted the landscapes exactly according to the conventions that prevailed in the closing decades of the seventeenth century. Let us, for example, see what Gérard de Lairesse had to say: ‘A landscape with perfect, straight growing trees, with round trunks and with modest foliage and crowns; smooth and uncluttered grounds, provided with gently sloping hills; streams of clear and tranquil waters; pleasant views; appropriate colours, in addition to a pleasing sky of azure blue with a few small clouds drifting by; along with decorative fountains, decorous houses and palaces built sensibly according to the architectural orders and adorned with pretty ornaments.’
Gillemans’s festoons also conform to the demands of the age. While still life’s of former times would invariably contain an overripe grape or a nibbled leaf, here the produce consists of splendid, unspoiled fruit all of which appears to have attained the optimum degree of ripeness at the same moment.
However well the festoons have been incorporated into the landscape, it remains obvious that the painting is the work of two different artists. Each fruit has been delicately and meticulously portrayed with evident passion for detail. Moreover, Gillemans rendered the fall of the light sublimely. The curling leaves in particular are masterpieces in themselves. The reflected light lifts the foliage out of the background magnificently.
Rijsbraeck, on the other hand, employed a far freer brush technique in his landscapes. Indeed, the landscapes would be exciting works in themselves. However, the contrast of the sketchlike composition of the background and the detailed rendering of the festoons does not result in a conflict in the overall composition. On the contrary, the different styles of painting are admirably suited to the purpose. Were the landscape to be painted in the same meticulous style, the festoons in the foreground would not have stood out from the background and would therefore have been far less convincing.
In the palette of colours, the bright tones of the fruit contrast beautifully with the warm, subdued hues of the landscape. This juxtaposition creates an atmospheric perspective that emphasises the three-dimensional effect remarkably.
There are countless examples of seventeenth-century artists who chartered other painters to populate their paintings with figures. Jacob van Ruisdael, for example, asked Nicolaes Berchem to complete his finest landscapes by painting in tiny figures, while Ludolf de Jongh provided a similar service to the landscapist Joris van der Haagen. In most cases this only involved small additions to paintings that were already more or less complete.
In the works discussed here, however, the collaboration between the artists goes much further and the result, moreover, is particularly fruitful. It is abundantly clear that the compositions were based on a well-conceived plan. Pieter Rijsbraeck’s characteristic manner of painting, which is also attested in his own individual works, provides a perfect complement to the style of Gillemans. The world of difference between the two painters does not, therefore, present an obstacle, on the contrary, this combination of specialists results in a magnificent synergy. Their collaboration reinforces their individual strengths. One and one is three!
It was shortly after Pieter Rijsbraeck had become a guild master in 1673 that he made his way to England. He may already have been accompanied by Jan Pauwel Gillemans II. But while the latter returned to the Netherlands after a few years, Rijsbraeck continued his travels and went to France. For over seventeen years he had a studio in Paris. Here he learned to paint in the classical style, absorbing in particular the influence the landscapist Gaspard Dughuet. In 1692 he returned to his native Antwerp. His son Michael Rysbraeck became a celebrated sculptor in England.
Jan Pauwel Gillemans II learned the skills of painting from his similarly named father and from Joris van Son. In 1674 he set up as a master in Antwerp. As a signature on a recently discovered Still Life with Fruit by a Fountain in a Landscape shows, he was in London around 1675. Gillemans II mainly painted still lifes, and had no qualms about collaborating with other specialised artists. He asked Pieter Rijsbraeck to paint his landscapes, for example, and on occasion Jan Peter IJkens to paint figures.
Jan Pauwel Gillemans II
Still Life with Fruit by a Fountain in a Landscape
Signed J.P. Gillemans fe Londini 1673 or 1678 (centre, on pedestal)
Canvas, 78 x 65 cm
Kunsthandel Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder, The Hague