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.
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, which was lost and rediscovered in England over a century later.
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 Danish king and the 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 in Jordaan by the canal. 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.
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