Abraham Hendriksz van Beijeren or Abraham van Beyeren was born in The Hague somewhere around 1620. He died in March 1690 in Overschie, Rotterdam. During his 70 years he was little known or recognised for his dark, Baroque still lifes. Van Beyeren specialised in an ornate style of still life known as Pronkstilleven, (Dutch for ‘ostentatious’, ‘ornate’ or ‘sumptuous’). This sumptuous style (and it is so very sumptuous) originated in Antwerp in the 1640s from where its ostentatiousness spread over the Dutch Republic like grapes on a velvet covered tabletop. Today van Beijeren is considered one of the most important painters of luxury Pronkstilleven and of fish still lives.
At around 16, Van Beyeren trained with the landscape and historical painting specialist, Tyman Arentsz Cracht alias Botterkul. Cracht was a member of a group of artists known as the Bentvueghels. Each member of the Bentvueghels would adopt a “Bent name” and Cracht’s was ‘Botterkul’, which is thought to be a reference to a Dutch sweet called ‘Boterbal’ (butter or cream ball). Cracht (b. 1590-1600, died 1846), was the head of the artisan’s Guild of St. Luke in The Hague at the time.
By 1638, Van Beyeren was living in the city of Lieden and he married Emmerentia Stercke there in 1639. He was back in The Hague in 1640 where he became a master of the local Guild of St. Luke. Before moving into sumptuousness, Van Beyeren was very marine orientated, beginning his career in the 1640s as a painter of Jan van Goven influenced seascapes. Later, Van Beyeren began to develop as a skilled still life painter of fish.
The seascapes weren’t well paid and the relative poverty of Van Beyeren likely explains his frequent wanderings. He lived in Delft from 1657 where he joined the local Guild of Saint Luke. In 1663 he returned to The Hague and stayed until 1669 when he moved to Amsterdam. Further moves followed: to Alkmaar in 1669, then Gouda in 1675 and finally his last move was to Overschie, Rotterdam in 1677.
He married Anna van den Queborn in 1647. Anna’s aunt was married to Pieter de Putter, a painter of fish still lifes who may have inspired and taught van Beijeren in the genre of fish still lifes. After Anna’s death he was left to raise their three daughters. His second wife was a painter and another Van den Queborn, the daughter of the painter Crispijn van den Queborn. In the 1650s and 1660s he started to focus on the pronkstillevens, exquisite still lifes with fine silverware, Chinese porcelain, glass and selections of fruit. He also painted flowers, dead birds and dark vanitas paintings. This move to painting luxury and sumptuousness was likely economically motivated as they could be sold to a wealthier clientele. His still lifes are comparatively elaborate and were influenced by painters like Jan Davidsz de Heem.
Van Beyerens may have been doing better financially in his later years as he bought a house in Overschie for 1,000 guilders of which 600 was covered by a mortgage. His wife was reported as being sick in bed in 1679 when she made her will. The date of her death is unknown. Van Beijeren died in Overschie in 1690.
Van Beyeren’s still lives are blackly evocative. Their dark brown tones hold inside their shadows an uncanny depth and clarity. His detail is so precise, his objects rendered so faithfully buyers felt they could reach in touch them. They feel present to us, even now. It’s easy to forget and a magical realisation that the objects that glisten there, glistened in the gloom of Van Beyerens studio almost four hundred years ago; his fruit and his fish, fresh for eternity. Van Beijeren was likely familiar with the other Dutch painters of pronkstillevens such as Pieter Claesz and William Claeszoon Heda who were monochrome banquet still lifes specialists. He often worked on a larger scale than his Dutch contemporaries using canvasses up to one meter and signing each with just the monogram AVB, rarely including a date. It’s been next to impossible for anyone compile a precise chronology of Van Beyeren’s work.
The detail in the painting above is such that in the reflection on the silver pitcher we can clearly see see Van Beyeren.
There he is, 400 years ago. He has his easel side on to the canvas, wears a dark coat or smock and, on his head, a dark packed hat with a rounded top. The window behind him provides the light source, the highlight on the pitcher, on every single grape and the light he paints by.
Knowing this, when you look at the whole canvas again you can feel him there, looking at the scene he’s painting. You’re there too.
FLORAL STILL LIFE