Teniers – Masters Of Painting

IT is a pleasant day at the “Bunch of Grapes ” tavern, and newcomers are to be met with. The older of the two seated on a donkey has extracted a painting from his saddle-bags, and is animatedly expatiating on its merits to a possible purchaser, who is evidently a man of some substance — a “grave citizen.” Beside him stands the fat landlady, with arms akimbo, and near this couple the innkeeper, pipe in hand, watches the younger artist engaged in sketching a quaint little child who offers some green stuff to the patient ass. Hostler and serving maid peer over the youthful painter’s shoulder as he works, and complete the group.

The would-be seller of the picture is the elder Teniers — the sketcher is his abler and more famous son, David Teniers, the second of the four painters who bore that name. Legend relates that at one time in their careers, father and son were in the habit of thus disposing of their work. But this could have been only for a comparatively short period, as the younger Teniers prospered early in life. He became a favorite of great people, among whom were Philip IV. of Spain, and Christina of Sweden, and, working industriously for half a century or so, had, at the end of his long life of over eighty years, produced an enormous number of pictures. Teniers is called by Ruskin “the painter of the pleasures of the ale-house and card – table,” and most of these works depict scenes of common life, — boors carousing, gambling, or fighting, village festivals, guard-houses, and tavern interiors, — but both portraits and landscapes may be found among them, and even mythological and sacred subjects are not wanting.

Referring to Teniers’s variety and fecundity, F. G. Stephens writes :

“Of this extraordinarily energetic and prolific painter the records recently recovered by French and Low Country archeologists are extremely copious and curious. The time had come when the wild ascription to him of more than nine hundred pictures—many of which are crowded with figures at full length, surrounded by innumerable de-tails, such as utensils, toys, weapons, armor, animals, furniture, architectural elements, and what not, to say nothing of landscape features, and finished with touches of ineffable spirit, firmness, and precision—should be questioned. It is desirable that definite ideas should be attained of what in the prodigious assembly is to be accepted as his, and what awarded to others who bore his family name, as well as to those imitators and scholars (the terms were often due to one and the same person) who either worked for him and them, or were neither more nor less than servile copyists of the masterpieces of the most brilliant and accomplished artist of the Flemish school of the seventeenth century.

“The impossibility of David II. having produced all the works ascribed to him by Smith, to say nothing of others not named in the great ‘Catalogue Raisonne,’ is manifest when we consider how highly he worked up his figures, and with what ineffable skill — the despair of all draughtsmen per se—he delineated armor, dresses, weapons, and still life at large, besides buildings and landscapes innumerable of details. The ‘ Arque busiers’ is perhaps the finest of its kind, but it is by no means the picture of Teniers which comprises the greatest number of complete and highly finished whole-length figures. Even the cold-blooded Wilkie, the only modern, except Messieurs Meissonier, Zamacots, and half a dozen Frenchmen of triumphant patience and indescribable skill, who has approached our master in this respect, said, I have also ‘ (he meant like-wise) ‘seen some pictures by Teniers, which for clear touching certainly go to the height of human perfection in art ; they make all other pictures look misty beside them.’ What that ‘clear touching’ was, which went to the height of human perfection, may be seen in such instances as the queen’s Teniers called ‘The Drummer,’ well known in Europe as ‘Le Tambour Battant,’ and dated 1657. Compared with the armor lying on our right in this canvas, the execution of which is as veracious as it is magistral, nothing Wilkie left us is equal. Only a few Dutchmen and Flemings of the seventeenth century, Van Eyck and Memlinc of the fifteenth century, and the above-named Frenchmen of our own age, have approached this triumph, which I select as an example not only of finish and ‘clear touching,’ but of finesse, and, above all, of breadth, veracity, and solidity. Merely to toil over such still life as this is not to come near the honor of Teniers II. . . .

“To a man who worked in this wonderful manner, Smith and the collectors have awarded a host of pictures. I say nothing of his invention and higher capacities, or of the genius which, with force and wizardry almost equal to Breughel’s, affected incantations, diablerie, and the like — a genius which revelled in guard-houses with soldiery and sutlers, got as drunk as possible at kermesses, danced wildly at feasts of the rich and poor, played at cards and bowls with peasants, gambled with swashbucklers, and attended the labors of armorers, chemists, smiths, clerks, students, women, surgeons, and tooth-drawers.

” Smith enumerated 903 pictures by David Teniers H. Although the Marvel of Cataloguers recorded some of these twice over, —e.g., his 96 is the same as the above-named No. 20 and the supplement No. 24, and thus that work stands for three,—the total is monstrous. To his followers, relations, and namesakes (especially to his father) we may fairly attribute the majority, if not all the inferior instances and small things out of counting. Their lives have been absorbed in the fruits of his. The ablest of his imitators were Apshoven, Ryckaert, Van Helmont, De Houdt, and F. Duchatel. Nevertheless, when these worked independently, we have little difficulty in recognizing the works of each man. Perhaps Zorg, likewise, might have produced some ‘Tenierses’ before he started for himself. Long as was the life of David II., and great as was his success, we cannot accept more than two hundred paintings of all kinds as due to him wholly, or even largely. It is known that most of the above-named artists worked for him, while some of them lived with him. It is to be hoped that the hand-some Chateau de Perck, near Mechlin, of which he painted the portrait now in the National Gallery, was not maintained by ‘sweating’ his assistants. His life was in-deed long and industrious.”

The picture of the two Teniers is the work of George Adolphus Storey, A. R. A., who was born in London in 1834, and studied at the Royal Academy schools. In 1864 he exhibited “The Meeting of William Seymour with Lady Arabella Stuart in 1609,” a picture which brought him prominently into notice, and was followed by another historical subject, entitled “The Royal Challenge,” but since then his art has been mainly shown in the productions of portraits of fair women and children, either in their own proper character or under some fanciful and charming disguise, and of some admirable bits from the life of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. To the latter class belong “After You,” “Scandal,” “The Old Soldier,” and “The Old Pump-room at Bath ; ” to the former, “Little Swansdown,” “Lilies, Oleanders, and the Pink,” “Sweet Margery,” and “Mistress Dorothy.” The last-named picture was shown at the Centennial exhibition in 1876, together with Mr. Storey’s “Only a Rabbit.”