Hendrik Reekers (1815-1854)
“A Summer Bouquet”
Oil on prepared mahogany panel
98 x 78 cm, housed in its original ebonised frame
Signed and dated 1850 (lower left)
A virtuoso of still life painting, Hendrik Reekers is regarded among the finest masters of the Dutch Nineteenth Century School. Since he was only thirty eight when he died his artistic output was relatively small yet during his short career he produced a remarkable series of works portraying flowers and fruit as well as dead game and insects; in addition to works on canvas and panel he also executed a number detailed botanical drawings and lithographs. Already highly acclaimed during his own life time, his repute still persists to the present day, when the rarity of his paintings as well as their exceptional quality places them in high demand.
The present oil, executed in 1850 when he was at the height of his career, is considered one of his finest pieces and as one of the largest it is certainly the best to appear on the open market. As such it compares to other still lifes by this gifted artist found amongst some of the world’s most prestigious public and private collections. Included amongst them are the Historisch Museum, the Rijksmuseum and Willet Holthuysen Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam and the Jean-Pierre Pescatore Museum in Luxemburg. The Teylers Museum in Haarlem own a number of his works including at least eight detailed pencil and watercolour studies of flowers and fruit as well as two comparable oils on panel, one of a similar size which shows dead game in combination with flowers and fruit and another smaller still life with flowers in a simpler copper vase placed on a marble ledge. The artist’s work is also represented in English public collections including the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, who own a detailed drawing of an opium poppy once owned by Ernst Heinrich Krelage of Haarlem, author of “Bloemenspeculatie in Nederland”, Amsterdam, 1942, while Cheltenham Art Gallery own two smaller still life oils, one dated 1841, executed on panel showing a fruit and game and a powder horn and the other on canvas of 1847 showing flowers and fruit in a glass vase.
Hendrik Reekers, who was born on 21st September 1815 in Haarlem, was the second of four children belonging to Johannes Reekers the Elder (1790-1858) and Maria née Tanders. Hendrik Reekers understood his craft from an early age since his father was also a painter specialising in flower and fruit pieces in addition to genre scenes and portraits. Johannes Reekers not only encouraged his son but was also his first tutor before he subsequently studied under the celebrated still life painter Georgius Jacobus Johannes van Os (1782-1861). Van Os, whose own style owed much to the work of the earlier Dutch master Jan van Huysum (1682-1749), was to exert a strong influence upon Hendrik Reekers. For instance the present work, with its pale buff coloured background and flowers in a vase set upon a marble plinth, shows how Reekers followed both the van Huysum and van Os tradition. Furthermore its exuberant style as well as its choice of intense and darker coloured flowers can be compared to some of van Os’s more individual works, such as his romantically picturesque “Still life with Flowers” of circa 1835 in the Rijksmuseum.
In addition to studying under his father and van Os, from 1830 until 1834 Hendrik Reekers studied at the Stadstekenschool (School of Drawing), Haarlem, where he himself became a teacher in 1837. Although he worked in Haarlem for most of his career, during the winters of 1841 up until about 1846 he visited Brussels, where the art dealer C. J. Nieuwenhuys used to sell many of his works. He also travelled to Paris and Versailles and may well have visited England, where in 1847 he showed one of his fruit pieces at the British Institution, London. Reekers also exhibited elsewhere including The Hague and Amsterdam, from as early as 1832, when he was only sixteen, up until 1852. Amongst many accolades he won a silver medal when he showed one of his still lifes at The Hague in 1841 and two years later became a member of the Academie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam.
Encouraged by the enthusiastic reaction from collectors and art dealers alike, during the early 1840s Reekers started to paint still lifes on larger sized panels and canvasses. A turning point in his career came when the art dealer Weimar introduced him to the keeper of collections belonging to King Willem II of the Netherlands. The keeper encouraged him to paint a large still life comparable to a work by his former teacher G. J. J. van Os that hung in the royal collection. From then on Reekers no longer dedicated himself to small pictures alone but also displayed his skills on larger formats.
The present work is an excellent example of this mature, confident style. Its infinite detail of flora and fauna reveals the passionate relationship Reekers had with his subject matter. The careful arrangement of flowers is a well orchestrated symphony of colour in which Reekers proves that he was not only a gifted artist but also as an inspired botanist who took great interest in the origin and significance of each individual flower. Amongst the diversity of plants, ranging from intrinsically native wild species to exotic imports one can see crowning the arrangement sprays of honeysuckle, tulips as well as fennel or another member of the umbelliferae family. Slightly hidden at the base of the tulip stems are a small group of slipperwort, which like the roses below as well as the fumitory corydalis, ageratum, anemone coronaria, forget-me-nots and ranunculus, were often included in his floral arrangements, however what appears to be a rhododendron as well as fennel were far rarer within his oeuvre. As in his other abundant still lifes, Reekers includes a range of vegetable matter, from the pitted green gourd to the bright yellow lemon with its waxy pith that perfectly offsets the grapes to one side and the copper vase behind. Interestingly the vase, with its relief panel showing young followers of Bacchus, the ancient god of wine, also relates to the grape vines and more generally alludes to a veiled symbolism of the grape harvest and fertility conveyed by this work as a whole. The inclusion of two butterflies not only provide added interest but act as a reminders of the fragile and fleeting nature of life. Below is a large white that stands out against the dark carved wooden plinth while diagonally above, at the top of the composition, is another butterfly whose crimson coloured wings are displayed in all their glory against the pale buff background.
Reekers died on 15th May 1854 leaving a legacy that lived on in the work of his pupils, counting amongst them his brother Johannes Reekers the Younger (1824-1895) as well as Hendrik Jan Hein (1822-1866) and Jan Striening (1827-1903). However the artist’s greatest legacy were his own paintings, which owing to their finesse and outstanding quality are as much enjoyed and appreciated today as they were during his own life time.