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Friday, September 23, 2016

Abraham van Beijeren

Banquet Still Life, 1635-55, Abraham van Beijeren
The various forms of art, in fact, most of all the endeavors of mankind, have had had their highs and lows. In architecture, we might cite the spectacular Baroque period of the 1600s as opposed to the overly ornate Victorian era of the 1800s in this context. In painting we'd have to view the Renaissance as a high point and perhaps French Academicism as something of a nadir. I'm not enough of a music historian or a literary expert to project a similar high-low wave into those areas. However, I suspect the same "wave" applies there too. I do know something about painting, however, and I recognize that in this art form the high points and low points conform to the wave pattern I just mentioned. Certainly another high point as to painting, and probably second only to the Renaissance, would be the Dutch Golden Age. Another could reasonably be French Impressionism of the late 19th-century, followed by a deep plunge into the nihilism of Dada a few years later. Some highs and lows are not as distinct or radical, but are, nonetheless, notable and useful in the study of art history.
Young Painter in his Studio,
1655-60, Barent Fabriticus
In discussing the Dutch Golden Age, I almost invariably mention the sophistication of the financial model governing the art market, which developed during that period. Re-markably, something very similar remains a potent fact of life in the modern day "fame game" of today, determining in large part those artists who "starve" and the few who grow "fat and happy." An outgrowth of this model also resulted in a degree of spec-ialization as to content never seen before and, in fact, not seen since. There was a general hierarchy of course, with history painters at the top and still-life or genre painters relegated to the bottom. Portrait and landscape artists found notches somewhere in between. But the specialization went be-yond that as artists practicing in each area sometimes carried it to what amounted to ridiculous extremes. In the area of history painting, for instance, there was ancient history, and "modern" history with separate side niches for Greek and Roman mythology. Closely associated, or arguably a part of history painting, were religious works, which, of course, were divided as to artists painting scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
As a marine painter, especially as compared to his more
accomplished peers, van Beijeren was mediocre at best.
As a Dutch Golden Age painter, Abraham van Beijeren was a participant (some might also say victim) of this social and financial model. Born around 1620, probably in the Hague, from the age of sixteen, he trained with Tyman Arentsz Cracht, an artist nearly as inconsequential as his student. We do have a small drawing of Cracht while no likeness at all remains in van Beijeren's case. From all indications van Beijeren studied with Cracht, a history and portrait painter, for little more than a year before moving to Leiden. It's unlikely he could have come close to his instructor's modest level of expertise in such a short time. He married in 1639 then moved back to The Hague the following year. During this time and for the next few years van Beijeren appears to have taken up marine painting--lots of imaginary rough water and bobbling ships (above).

Still-life with Fish, Abraham van Beijeren

Still Life of Fish, ca. 1655,
Abraham van Beijeren
Following the death of his wife in 1647, van Beijeren was left with three daughters to support and an art career floundering in seawater. He moved to Delft around 1657 where he married a second time and joined the local Guild of Saint Luke. His second wife, Anna, was the daughter of the painter Crispijn van den Queborn. Anna's aunt was married to Pieter de Putter, a painter of fish still lifes. De Putter may have been the source of van Beijeren’s initial interest in the genre of fish still lifes (above) as well as his tutor. In any case, van Beijeren moved his family back to The Hague in 1663 where he remained until 1669, be-fore moving once more, this time to Amsterdam. That same year Bei-jeren moved to Alkmaar, then to Gouda in 1675, and finally Rot-terdam in 1677, where he lived until his death in 1690.

An example of "pronkstillevens," that is, a still-life composed of luxurious objects, though in van Beijeren's case, not without fish.
Even a brief look at Van Beijeren’s fish still-life paintings would suggest such works were not very appealing, even for a nation whose daily diet depended heavily on seafood. Van Beijeren's frequent moves from one place to another appears to indicate that these works were not very well paid at the time leaving him and his family to cope with relative poverty. As a result, In the 1650s and 1660s van Beijeren started to focus on pronkstillevens, which is to say still-lifes with fine silverware, Chinese porcelain, glass and selections of fruit. He also painted a number of floral still life paintings, dead bird paintings, and vanitas paintings (having to do with the brevity of life).

Still-life, Abraham van Beijeren
Van Beijeren apparently did better financially in switching from fish to elegant silver and fine china (above). In his later years van Beijeren was able to buy a house in Overschie for 1,000 guilders, of which 600 was covered by a mortgage. The move to painting pronkstillevens was apparently motivated by economic necessity as they could be sold to a wealthier clientele. These still lifes are quite elaborate displays reflecting the influence of Jan Davidsz de Heem. His Banquet Still-life (top) from sometime between 1635 and 1655, is one of his best. Personally, I have a degree of sympathy for van Beijeren's plight. Several years ago I painted a still-life I called Seafood Buffet (below). Several years later, It remains unsold. Maybe I should have played on the novelty of it and simply titled the painting, Dead Fish.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Seafood Buffet, Jim Lane


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