Hercules Seghers. Dutch Golden Age Progressive.

River Valley, Hercules Seghers, c. 1626 – c. 1630 oil on panel.

Seghers was one of the most unusual artists to emerge from the Dutch Golden Age, a time that began with the birth of the Dutch Republic in 1561 and ended abruptly when the Franco Dutch War kicked off in May of 1872. During these golden years years the Dutch star was well & truly on the rise with trade, science, the military and the arts all right up there with the best in the world.

Hercules was the son of an immigrant Mennonite cloth merchant from Flanders who moved to Amsterdam in 1596. It was here that Hercules was apprenticed to Gillis van Coninxloo, the leading Flemish landscapist of the day. He was just beginning to forge his unique signature style within the Flemish landcape tradition when Coninxloo died in 1606. Apprentceship over. Seghurs & his father attended the auction of Coninxloo’s studio contents and the pair came home with several Flemish landcapes under their arms. After his father died in 1612, Hercules returned to Haarlem and joined The Haarlem Guild of St. Luke, a kind of city guild for tradespeople presided over by the patron saints Luke the Evangelist and Saint Eligius – Luke being patron saint for Haarlem’s painters & St. Eligius for the metal smiths.

Woodland Path, Hercules Seghers c. 1618-20; oil on canvas, mounted on panel

From here on in everything seems to go pear shaped for Hercules. He returned to Amsterdam in 1614 to get custody of an illegitimate daughter and a year later married an Antwerp woman, Anneke van der Briggen who was 16 year older than him. In 1620 he spent 4,000 guilders on a large house beside the canal in Jordaan. From his studio on the top floor of his house he looked out over the Noorderkerk, a recently built (17th century) Protestant Church and he featured it in on of his etchings. Hercules also found time to invent the “sugar-bite” (also called lift-ground etching) aquatint technique, a process which was then lost and rediscovered in England over a century later.

Mountainous Landscape, Hercules Seghers, 1650; oil on panel. 
(Bredius Museum, Hague – destroyed by fire in Oct. 2007).

Seghurs favourite subject was imaginary mountainous landscapes and he became known for his print paintings; coloured prints and prints on canvas. Seghurs was truly a progressive: his paintings were mostly fantastical landcapes and in his prints he pushed the boundaries of technique. Sadly, very few of his paintings have survived. Only eleven in all. Of his 54 surviving etchings, just 183 print impressions exist, each differently finished. His work was extremely popular in the 17th century. It influenced Rembrandt for example, who collected and owned eight of his paintings and some prints. Rembrandt. the king of Danish and Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange also acquired works for their royal collections.

Of course it didn’t last. By the late 1620’s he was so deep in debt he had to sell the house and studio by the canal in Jordaan. He moved again, to Ultrecht and began selling art. In 1633 he moved to the Hague. It would be his last move. By 1638 he was dead. He left a widow named Cornelia de Witte so presumably Anneke van der Briggen his (older) wife was already dead. At the end of his life Hercules took to drink and died after a fall down the stairs.

After his death, the Hercules Seghurs tortured genius legend recieved a huge boost when Samuel van Hoogstraten in his “Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst (Introduction to the High School of Painting) presented him, based mostly on his etchings, as a romantic genius avant la lettre, lonely, poor and misunderstood.

Panoramic Landscape, Hercules Seghers c. 1625; oil on canvas, mounted on panel (attributed to Seghers since 1951).
View of Brussels from the North-East, Hercules Seghers c. 1625; oil on panel
Landscape with City on a River, Hercules Seghers c. 1627-29; oil-painting on oak panel
A river valley with a group of houses, Hercules Seghers c. 1625. oil on canvas, mounted on panel.
Mountain Valley with Fenced Fields Hercules Seghers c. 1625 – 1630.
Line etching, additions in drypoint, supplemented with plate tone, printed in blue on thick paper; with pink and blue oil paint; framing line in brown ink; plate tone has been rubbed away entirely in the lightest sections.
The Tomb of the Horatii and Curiatii, Hercules Seghers, c. 1628 – c. 1629.
Line etching with tone and highlights created by using crosshatching and stopping-out, printed in black ink on paper, coloured with dark blue, light blue and white oil paint.
The Mossy Tree, Hercules Seghers, c. 1625 – c. 1630.
Lift-ground etching, printed in green (azurite and precipitated yellow lake) on paper prepared with a light pink, lead-based ground, coloured from top downwards with semi-transparent, light blue paint, coloured from the bottom upwards with a semi-transparent, grayish-blue paint.
Mountain Landscape with a Crest, First Version, Hercules Seghers, c. 1622 – c. 1625.
Line etching printed in dark greenish-blue on paper prepared with cream-coloured, lead-based ground, coloured with transparent green paint, slightly more opaque bluish-green paint.
Mountain Valley with Fenced Fields, Hercules Seghers, c. 1625 – c. 1630.
Mountain Valley with a Plateau, Hercules Seghers, c. 1625 – c. 1630.
Line etching and drypoint, with plate tone, fragments of printed framing line along the bottom, right and centre, printed in blue on paper prepared with a pink, lead-based ground; on the verso fragment of a counterproof of a print printed in blue at top left.
Distant View with a Road and Mossy Branches, Hercules Seghers, c. 1622 – c. 1625.
Line etching, printed in dark blue on cotton prepared with a yellowish-grey, lead-based ground, coloured with paint in alternating sections of darker and lighter brown, light and darker greyish brown, green and darker bluish-green, and greyish blue, highlighted with dry, greyish-white paint.
Mountain Landscape with a Crest, First Version, Hercules Seghers, c. 1622 – c. 1625 counterproof of etching in black on linen prepared with a light brown, lead-based ground.
View of Amersfoort, Hercules Seghers, c. 1625 – c. 1630
Line etching and drypoint, pattern of cracks and dots in the sky, due to foul biting in the etching ground, printed in blue on paper prepared with bluish-grey, lead-based ground.
Lift-ground line etching printed in black on paper.
Valley with a River and a Town with Four Towers, Hercules Seghers, c. 1626 – c. 1627.
Line etching and drypoint, printed in blue on paper prepared with a cream-coloured, lead-based ground, coloured with transparent light olive, brown, opaque dark blue and orange-brown paint; impression on verso: in centre, in green ink, counterproof from printed framing line.

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