Anna Ruysch

Anna Ruysch - A still life of flowers

A still life of flowers in a glass vase on a stone table ledge

Anna Ruysch – sometimes mistakenly called Anna Elisabeth – was born in The Hague in 1666. Her father, Fredericus Ruysch, was an anatomist and botanist. Shortly after her birth, the family moved to Amsterdam, where their father made quite a name for himself exhibiting anatomical still life displays, using flowers, plants, fruits and insects. As his daughters grew up surrounded by these displays, they began depicting them from an early age. Later, Anna probably studied with the still life painter Willem van Aelst, like her older sister Rachel. In 1688 Anna married the paint dealer Isaak Hellenbroek. After her husband died, Anna continued the paint business with her son well into old age. She died at 87.

It is generally assumed Anna Ruysch stopped painting after her wedding; this would have been quite understandable, as the couple had no fewer than six children. As a result of this, and because she rarely signed her works, her known oeuvre is small, although from time to time new discoveries of works by her hand are made. Stylistically, she worked in much the same style as her sister, whose subject matter she also adopted, painting mainly still lives of fruit, flowers and insects.

The present work is very reminiscent of the work of Anna’s sister Rachel. Typically of a seventeenth-century flower piece, it shows flowers from different seasons in bloom together, to make for a prettier picture. Among the flowers and leaves, several insects, such as a ladybug and a butterfly, can be made out. Interestingly, several leaves and flower petals show signs of insect damage; this imbues the painting with a deeper meaning: that which is in bloom today already carries in itself the seeds of its decay; what is pretty and full of live now will soon be ugly and dead. This ‘memento mori’ element turns this still life into a piece to reflect upon the vagaries of life.

Artist: Anna Ruysch (The Hague 1666 - 1754 Amsterdam)
Medium: oil on canvas
Dimensions: 65 x 54 cm