The Flemings through the Eyes
15 October, 2010 the Twelve-Column Hall of the New Hermitage held the opening of the exhibition The Flemings through the Eyes of David Teniers the Younger, coincided to the 400th anniversary from the birth of this remarkable Flemish artist.
The unique Hermitage collection of the master’s pictures is one
of the best in the world is distinguished with thematic
diversity of masterpieces and high artistic level. The Museum
possesses thirty three pictures, created mainly during the period
when the painter’s activity flourished
David Teniers the Younger earned his fame as a remarkable landscape painter and master of peasant life scenes, inexhaustible for imagination, being able to show rich inner opportunities of this subject. He became the successor of the best traditions of the Dutch genre painting of the 16th century. The artist enjoyed great renown during his lifetime. He was treated kindly with the high and mightiest that literally piled the painter with orders. Patrons of Teniers were Great Duke Leopold Wilhelm and King of Spain Philip IV.
The painter was born in 1610 in Antwerp in the family of the painter and picture-dealer David Teniers the Elder (1582–1649), learned from his father in whose workshop he started his activity in 1626. In 1632/33 David Teniers the Younger became the member of the Antwerp Guild of St Luke.
A young master worked in the most diverse genres, made portraits of historic figures, group portraits of the infantry guilds’ members, religious, allegorical and mythological compositions, everyday scenes, still life paintings, pastorals, landscapes.
In the early 1630-s Teniers was influenced by a well-known master of everyday scenes Adriaen Brouwer (1605/06–1638) that is evidenced by Peasants Playing Dice. But gradually he stopped copying Brouwer. Acquaintance with the creative work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder helped the young artist to work out his own style.
In a sense Teniers "became relatives" with the tradition of Brueghel art thanks to marriage in 1637 with Anna Breughel, the granddaughter of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and daughter of Jan Brueghel Velvet (1568–1625). The major part of Anna’s dowry made pictures and drawings of her grandfather and father. Studying of these works was critical for development of Teniers’s genre painting.
In the year of marriage with Anna Breughel Teniers painted the first picture in subject Peasant Wedding. Five more of his compositions in with this subject have survived until present days, including the Hermitage one, made in 1650. In them Teniers, based on the Bruegel tradition, showed the bride at the table alone without a bridegroom. As Bruegel he looked at his characters with slight irony. It is no coincidence that in many of his works, including five Hermitage one there is a permanent element, the picture of the male head, fastened to the wall. It serves as an original visiting card of Teniers and it is perceived as additional author’s mark, besides the signature.
Since 1637 mature stage in the master’s creative work started. Teniers created pictures, peaceful and quiet by their character without aggressive characters or conflict situations; he preferred to depict the action not indoors but outdoors, in the nature (Peasants playing bowling). Creating chronicles of Flemish everyday life, the painter reproduced scenes of labor in the village – harvesting, sheep shearing, hunting, fishing, cloth whitening, taking care of the livestock and many others, alongside with peasants’ rest (two compositions of 1646 and 1648 on the subject Village Holiday are kept in the Hermitage) knowingly, brightly and in details.
In the 1640-s transformation of the master’s stylistic devices took place. At than time Teniers was aimed for simplicity, equilibrium and clarity of the composition. The monochrome painting predominant in the 1630-s was changed with bright rich color with golden shade. Later, in the 1650-s the golden color was gradually changed for more exquisite silver-blue color. The master worked in the artistic manner having developed during these decades till the end of life.
Teniers’s idea about the contemporary genre painter was expressed in the Hermitage picture Artist in his Studio (1641). Arguing with colleagues, idealizing their image, he set against them an image of the realist painter working with a model, but primarily trusting his own viewing the world.
Undisputable masterpieces of Teniers include Group Portrait of Members of the Infantry Guild “Oude Voetboog” (“Old Arbalest”) in Antwerp, painted in 1643. A significant peculiarity of the Hermitage masterpiece is in the fact that the group portrait (there are about two hundred characters in the picture) is placed by the painter into the city landscape with three fourth of the space taken with architecture. Dominance of architectural forms distinguishes the Hermitage picture from the other group portraits by Frans Hals and Rembrandt identical in subject but earlier in time in whose works portrait features were predominant. For Teniers the guild’s order was the first large and responsible work which he successfully managed. The picture was placed in the session hall of the building of “Old Arbalest” Guild. Creation of such prestige canvas put David Teniers the Younger forward into the first row of Flemish painters.
Having reached the period of flourishing, in 1646 the artist painted a large monumental painting Kitchen – åanother masterpiece from the Hermitage collection. The painting combines in itself everyday, allegoric and portrait genres and still life. Subject of Kitchen gave an opportunity to Teniers to depict in the single composition allegory of four elements at once. Earth and Water are represented by fruit, fowl and different fish species. Fire – with the roaster on the table and the fireplace. Air is personified with the figure of the falconer with a falcon in hand.
In 1651 Leopold Wilhelm designated David Teniers the Younger as a Court artist and pinacotheca keeper. The master with his family moved to Brussels where he immediately started performing his multiple duties. He participated in purchasing of pictures, made a detailed inventory list of artistic works, reproduced masterpieces form the collection in pictures. Leopold Wilhelm donated images of his pinacotheca to members of the Royal family being in Vienna and Madrid, therefore contributing fame and popularity of the painter.
In 1651 on order of Leopold Wilhelm Teniers went to England. In London he probably saw one of three variants of an allegorical portrait by Anthony van Dyck Lady Venetia Digby as Prudence (about 1633-1641). After this trip Teniers created the composition Allegory of Prudence, Defeating the Earthly Vanity. Moral and instructive motives are characteristic not only for this picture of the master. In the same way, the subject of sensual seducements overcoming appeared in Teniers’s works, devoted to the image of St Anthony. Two Hermitage compositions for the subject Temptation of St Anthony are iconographic, especially with their depiction of "evil spirits", witches, demons, mythical beasts and ascended to works of Jeronim Bosch (1450–1516) but they got their own interpretation of Teniers. When the image of the main character, created by Bosch is endowed with manhood and firmness of spirit then in the Hermitage works by Teniers St Anthony created the image of the weak-willed, infirm old man.
Another sphere of the artist’s creative work must be mentioned. Images of church interiors were popular in Flanders during the entire 17th century. Teniers often painted staffage for them, “enlivening” empty space with people’s figures. The Hermitage Interior of the Antwerp Cathedral is an example of such work by Teniers and Peter Neffs Junior (1620 - after 1675).
Pastoral scenes, being a kind of genre art, are represented at the exhibition with matching pictures by the master Shepherd and Shepherdess (the 1650-s). Their characters seem to be young actors, dressed in theater costumes and skillfully performing the assigned roles. Charm of youth, admirably delivered by the artist, saved Teniers here from excessive sentimentality in characters interpretation which appeared later.
Creative work of Teniers finished brilliant development of the Flemish painting of the 17th century and in many ways it anticipated the style of those genre-painters of the early 18th century(in the first place of Antoine Watteau) who worked mostly in small forms of easel painting. Teniers’s heritage is extremely large. There are hundreds of the artist’s works, mentioned in the catalogues of museums and private galleries.
A scientific catalogue (Publishing House of the State Hermitage, 2010) has been prepared to the exhibition. Author of the catalogue and exhibition curator is Natalia Babina, Senior Researcher of the West European Fine Art Department, PhD in Art History.