Abraham Hendriksz van Beijeren. It’s both magical to remember & easy to forget that the objects that glisten there now, once glistened in the gloom of his studio almost four hundred years ago; his fruit and his fish, fresh for eternity; his silver shining forever in the darkness.

River view, c.1640s-1650s.
The Silver Seascape, c. 1640s-1650s.
Van Beyeren‘s first boss (third from left) in an anonymous drawing in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Left to right: Joost from The Hague (bent name Schotsen trommel), Cornelis (Poelenburgh) from Ultrect (bent name Satier), Wouter (Crabeth) from God (bent name Almanack), Tyman (Cracht) from Emster (bent name ‘Botterkull’) and Peter from Leiden (bent name Ram).
Tyman Arentsz Cracht a.k.a. Botterkul (Butterball).

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) began life in Antwerp in the 1640s from where its ostentatiousness spread rapidly all over the Dutch Republic. Today he’s 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.

Van Beyeren lived in the city of Lieden in 1638-1639 where in 1639 he married Emmerentia Stercke. He was back in The Hague in 1640 where he became a master of the local Guild of St. Luke. Before moving on to 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.

Initiation of a Bentveughel in Rome. Anonymous, ca 1660, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.
This painting depicts a Bentvueghel being initiated in Rome, where each new member receives his nickname or Bent.
Van Beyeren’s boss, Tyman Arentsz Cracht (a.k.a. Botterkul), had was a Bentvueghel and had been in Rome three years before Van Beyeren began working for him. He would have undergone this weird initiation ceremony.
Fish still life, Pieter de Putter, c. 1630-1659.
The fish painter, De Putter was the husband of Van Beyeren’s first wife Anna’s aunt. It’s likely de Putter inspired and tutored Van Beyeren in fish still life painting.
Van Beyeren’s father in law, Crispijn van den Queborn.
Portrait by van Hartogh Moerkerken, 1697. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Van Beyeren’s second wife was the daughter of artist Crispijn van den Queborn.

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 the paintering of 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.

Still life with lemon, grapes and glasses 1640-1690.

Van Beyeren’s still lives are blackly evocative. Their dark brown tones hold within 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.

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Pronkstillleven.

Still Life, after 1655.

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Banquet still life, 1667.

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Still Life with Silver-Gilt Glass Holder, c.1654- 1660.

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Sumptuous Still Life, c.1654.

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Pronkstillleven, 1655-1665.

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Pronkstillleven 1655-1665.

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Banquet still-Life with Landscape, 1650s.

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Still Life c.1665.

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Sumptuous Still Life with Mauritshuis, 1665.

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Still Life with Fish on a Stone Table, 17c.

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Still Life with a Silver Pitcher 1660-1665.

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.

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Fish.

Still Life with Fish and Crustaceans, 1666.

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Still life with fish 1650-1670.

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Still Life with Game and Fowl, undated.
Still life with fish in a basket, undated.
Still Life with Haddocks and Plaice, undated.

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Still Life with Halibut and other Fish, undated.

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Still Life with Fish, c.1660.

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Still Life with Fish on a Stone Table 1635-1690.

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Abraham van Beijeren – Still Life with a Silver Pitcher 1660-1665.

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Still Life with Seafood, 1640-1690.

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Still life with Fruit and Fowl c. 1651

Floral still life.

Still life with flowers, 1650-1670.

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Flower Still Life with a Timepiece, 1663-1665.

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