Jan van Kessel the Elder or Jan van Kessel I was a Flemish painter active in Antwerp in the mid-17th century. A versatile artist he practised in many genres including studies of insects, floral still lifes, marines, river landscapes, paradise landscapes, allegorical compositions, scenes with animals and genre scenes. A scion of the Brueghel family many of his subjects took inspiration of the work of his grandfather Jan Brueghel the Elder as well as from the earlier generation of Flemish painters such as Daniel Seghers, Joris Hoefnagel and Frans Snyders. Van Kessel’s works were highly prized by his contemporaries and were collected by skilled artisans, wealthy merchants, nobles and foreign luminaries throughout Europe.
This painting was made after an example by Van Kessel’s uncle, Jan Brueghel the younger (1601-Antwerp-1678). (A drawing of the same subject matter, see K. Ertz, 2012, ill. p.249). This is the first and only signed landscape that is known by Jan van Kessel the elder (K. Ertz). It demonstrates the influence of the illustrious Brueghel family on van Kessel.
If the present work is compared with Brueghel the Elder’s ‘A landscape with a village on the bank of a river’, we can see that in both works the crucial compositional feature of the river running in a straight line through the work, guiding the eye through the landscape, was a recurring motif in the landscape painting of both Brueghel the Elder and his son and reflects the influence they had on Van Kessel, as do the comparable rustic genre scenes on the left-hand side of both works. The human activity enlivens the landscape and the invariable individualisation of the figures provides engrossing detail.
Jan van Kessel mainly painted animals (especially insects) and flowers, as well as some mythological and biblical scenes. He specialized in small-scale pictures of subjects gleaned from the natural world such as floral still lifes and allegorical series showing animal kingdoms, the four elements, the senses, or the parts of the world. Obsessed with picturesque detail, van Kessel worked from nature and used illustrated scientific texts as sources for filling his pictures with objects represented with almost scientific accuracy.
New York, sale Sotheby’s, January 2007, (incorrectly as JvKessel the younger, with the dates of JvKessel the elder);
Private collection, United Kingdom;
with Douwes Fine Art, Amsterdam/London at TEFAF 2011;
Private collection, The Netherlands.
Expertise and Literature
– Dr. Alice Davies (19 August 2009);
– Dr. Klaus Ertz, dd. March 2011, included in his catalogue raisonné ‘Jan van Kessel der Aeltere, der Jüngere und der Andere’, Lingen 2012, Vol. 8, p. 249, no. 323, with large colour ill. no. 54a on p.67 and text on p.66.