Rachel-Ruysch-1664-1750

Happy International Women’s Day! 

To celebrate we’ll be sharing, throughout the day, a number of artworks by women in the Ashmolean’s collections.                                                

A ‘Forest Floor’ Still Life of Flowers
Oil on canvas by Rachel Ruysch (1664–1750)

Bequeathed to the Ashmolean Museum by Daisy Linda Ward in 1939

Rachel Ruysch, according to the artist, was taught by Willem van Aelst. From her studio in Amsterdam, she painted a long succession of flower paintings, several fruit pieces and a number of 'forest floors’ of which this is a relatively early example.

4

Wie kan hier all’ de wondren tellen?

Ik zie de purpren Muskadellen;

‘k Zie de adertjes der blaadjes zwellen,

Door milde morgendauw besproeid.

De schoone Pruim en Perzik bloozen;

Terwijl het Violiertje gloeit

In schaaûw van witte en roode Roozen.

My dunkt ik zie dat Rupsje weeven,

Dat Bytje door de takjes zweeven,

Noem dit geen kunst: o neen : ‘t is leven.

(Who can count these wonders all?

I see the purple Muscatel;

I see the leaves’ veins as they swell

Under the gentle morning dew.

The Plum and Peach, they blush, ‘tis said,

and fragrant Stock of glowing hue,

shaded by Roses white and red.


The caterpillar wends its way,

Methinks that bee above doth sway,

Call not this art: ‘tis life, I say.)

-Lukretia Wilhelmina van Merken, in honour of Rachel Ruysch’s oeuvre (1750)

On this International Women’s Day, I’d like to highlight some of my greatest heroes and inspirations: the women whose fantastic works shaped the Dutch Golden Age. The harmful and disrespectful notion that women artists didn’t exist in history (and if they did, they were never successful) persists to this day. I want to stress, desperately, that this is not so. Women’s labour throughout the ages has been tragically undervalued, and women’s art has been systematically pushed aside and labelled as “kitsch” and “craft” by those who would have women make nothing else.

Margareta de Heer, Clara Peeters, Rachel Ruysch and Maria van Oosterwijck were each very achieved artists, and their work was heavily sought after in their time. With the limitations set upon them by society - still life was the only form of painting a (wealthy) woman could do at the time - they built great careers and lasting legacies. Their love of the natural world shows in the beautiful, detailed way they depict it in their work, and if ever you are blessed with the opportunity to see any of it in real life, I strongly suggest you do so. They are the giants whose shoulders we stand on, and must never be forgotten.

2

Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) was a Dutch still life painter who specialized in flowers, and helped popularize the gender greatly during her time. Today, she is recognized by art historians as one of the most talented painters dwelling in still life, and is the best documented female painter of the Dutch Golden Age.

Her career spanned six decades, during which time she produced more than 250 paintings. She was the first female member of the Confrerie Pictura in The Hague, and enjoyed a great reputation and fame even during her lifetime.