1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Teniers

TENIERS, the name of a family of Flemish artists who flourished at Antwerp and Brussels during the 17th century.

David Teniers, the elder (1582–1649), was born at Antwerp. Having received his first training in the painter’s art from his brother Juliaen, he studied under Rubens in Antwerp, and subsequently under Elsheimer in Rome; he became a member of the Antwerp gild of painters in 1606. Though his ambition led him at times to try his skill in large religious, historical and mythological compositions, his claim to fame depends chiefly on his landscapes and paintings of peasants carousing, of kermesse scenes and the like, which are marked by a healthy sense of humour, and which are not infrequently confused with the early works of his son David. There is a large painting by the elder Teniers at St Paul’s church in Antwerp, representing the “Works of Charity.” At the Vienna Gallery are four landscapes painted by Teniers under the influence of Elsheimer, and four small mythological subjects, among them “Vertumnus and Pomona,” and “Juno, Jupiter and Io.” The National Gallery has a characteristic scene of village life, “Playing at Bowls,” a “Conversation” of three men and a woman, and a large “Rocky Landscape.” Other examples of his work are to be found at the galleries of St Petersburg, Madrid, Brussels, Munich, Dresden and Berlin (“The Temptation of St Anthony”). Teniers also achieved success as a picture dealer, and is known to have attended the fair of St Germain in Paris in 1635, with a large number of paintings by himself and by his four sons. He died at Antwerp in 1649.

David Teniers, the younger (1610–1696), the more celebrated son of the last-named, almost ranking in celebrity with Rubens and Van Dyck, was born in Antwerp on the 15th of December 1610. Through his father, he was indirectly influenced by Elsheimer and by Rubens. We can also trace the influence of Adrian Brouwer at the outset of his career. There is no evidence, however, that either Rubens or Brouwer interfered in any way with Teniers’s education, and Smith (Catalogue Raisonné) may be correct in supposing that the admiration which Brouwer’s pictures at one time excited alone suggested to the younger artist his imitation of them. The only trace of personal relations having existed between Teniers and Rubens is the fact that the ward of the latter, Anne Breughel, the daughter of John (Velvet) Breughel, married Teniers in 1637. Admitted as a “master” in the gild of St Luke in 1632, Teniers had even before this made the public acquainted with his works. The Berlin Museum possesses a group of ladies and gentlemen dated 1630. No special signature positively distinguishes these first productions from those of his father, and we do not think it correct to admit with some writers that he first painted religious subjects. Dr Bode, in a remarkable study of Brouwer and his works, expresses the opinion that Teniers’s earliest pictures are those found under the signature “Tenier.” Tenier is a Flemish version of a thoroughly Walloon name, “Taisnier,” which the painter’s grandfather, a mercer, brought with him when he came from Ath in 1558; and Dr Bode’s supposition is greatly strengthened by the circumstance that not only David the elder but his brother Abraham and his four sons were all inscribed as “Tenier” in the ledgers of the Antwerp gild of St Luke. Some really first-rate works—the “Prodigal Son” and a group of “Topers” in the Munich Gallery, as well as a party of gentlemen and ladies at dinner, termed the “Five Senses,” in the Brussels Museum—with the above signature are remarkable instances of the perfection attained by the artist when he may be supposed to have been scarcely twenty. His touch is of the rarest delicacy, his colour at once gay and harmonious. Waagen and Smith agree that the works painted from 1645 to 1650 testify most highly to the master’s abilities; there is no doubt that a considerable number of earlier productions would have been sufficient to immortalize his name. He was little over thirty when the Antwerp gild of St George enabled him to paint the marvellous picture which ultimately found its way to the Hermitage Gallery in St Petersburg—the “ Meeting of the Civic Guards.” Correct to the minutest detail, yet striking in effect, the scene, under the rays of glorious sunshine, displays an astonishing amount of acquired knowledge and natural good taste. This painting leads us to mention another work of the same year (1643), now in the National Gallery, London, “The Village Féte ” (or “La fête aux chaudrons”) (No. 952), an equally beautiful repetition of which, dated 1646, belongs to the duke of Bedford. Truth in physiognomy, distribution of groups, the beautiful effect of light and shade, command our warmest admiration. A work like this, says Waagen, stamps its author as the greatest among painters of his class. Frankness in expression and freedom in attitude guided his preference in the choice of a model, but we may suppose him occasionally to have exaggerated both. He seems anxious to have it known that, far from indulging in the coarse amusements of the boors he is fond of painting, he himself lives in good style, looks like a gentleman, and behaves as such. He never seems tired or showing the turrets of his chateau of Perck, and in the midst of rustic merry-makings we often see his family and himself received cap in hand by the joyous peasants. We may also observe that he has a certain number of favourite models, the constant recurrence of whom is a special feature of his works. We have even met them in a series of life-size portrait-like figures in the Doria Pamphili Gallery in Rome.[1]

Teniers was chosen by the common council of Antwerp to preside over the gild of painters in 1644. The archduke Leopold William, who had assumed the government of the Spanish Netherlands, being a great lover of art, employed Teniers not only as a painter but as keeper of the collection of pictures he was then forming. With the rank and title of “ayuda de camara,” Teniers took up his abode in Brussels shortly after 1647. Immense sums were spent in the acquisition of paintings for the archduke. A number of valuable works of the Italian masters, now in the Vienna Museum, came from Leopold’s gallery after having belonged to Charles I. and the duke of Buckingham. De Bie (1661) states that Teniers was some time in London, collecting pictures for the duke of Fuensaldaña, then acting as Leopold’s lieutenant in the Netherlands. Paintings in Madrid, Munich, Vienna and Brussels have enabled art critics to form an opinion of what the imperial residence was at the time of Leopold, who is represented as conducted by Teniers and admiring some recent acquisition. No picture in the gallery is omitted, every one being inscribed with a number and the name of its author, so that the ensemble of these paintings might serve as an illustrated inventory of the collection.[2] Still more interesting is a canvas, now in the Munich Gallery, where we see Teniers at work in a room of the palace, with an old peasant as a model and several gentlemen looking on. When Leopold returned to Vienna, Teniers’s task ceased; in fact, the pictures also travelled to Austria, and a Flemish priest, himself a first-rate flower painter, Van der Baren, became keeper of the arch ducal gallery. Teniers nevertheless remained in high favour with the new governor-general, Don Juan, a natural son of Philip IV. The prince was his pupil, and de Bie tells us he painted the likeness of the painter’s son. Honoured as one of the greatest painters in Europe, Teniers seems to have made himself extremely miserable through his aristocratic leanings. Shortly after the death of his wife in 1656 he married Isabella de Fren, daughter of the secretary of the council of Brabant, and strove his utmost to prove his right to armorial bearings. In a petition to the king he reminded him that the honour of knighthood had been bestowed upon Rubens and Van Dyck. The king at last declared his readiness to grant the request, but on the express condition that Teniers should give up selling his pictures. The condition was not complied with; but it may perhaps account for the master’s activity in favour of the foundation in Antwerp of an academy of fine arts to which only painters and sculptors should be admitted, whereas the venerable gild of St Luke made no difference between art and handicraft: carvers, gilders, bookbinders, stood on an even footing with painters and sculptors: the separation was not obtained till 1773. There were great rejoicings in Antwerp when, on the 26th of January 1663, Teniers came from Brussels with the royal charter of the academy, the existence of which was due entirely to his personal initiative.

Teniers died in Brussels on the 25th of April 1690. The date is often wrongly given as 1694 or 1695. A picture in the Munich Gallery (No. 906), dated 1680, represents him as an alchemist, oppressed with a burden of age beyond his years. From this date we hear more of his doings as a picture-dealer than as a painter, which most probably gave birth to the legend of his having given himself out as deceased in order to get higher prices for his works. David, his eldest son, a painter of talent and reputation, died in 1685. One of this third Teniers’s pictures—“St Dominic Kneeling before the Blessed Virgin,” dated 1666—is still to be found in the church at Perck. As well as his father, he contributed many patterns to the celebrated Brussels tapestry looms.

Smith’s Catalogue Raisonné gives descriptions of over 900 paintings accepted as original productions of Teniers. Few artists ever worked with greater ease, and some of his smaller pictures—landscapes with figures—have been termed “afternoons,” not from their subjects, but from the time spent in producing them. The museums in Madrid, St Petersburg, Vienna, Munich, Dresden, Paris, London and Brussels have more than 200 pictures by Teniers. In the United Kingdom 150 may be found in private hands, and many other examples are to be met with in private collections throughout Europe. Although the spirit of many of these works is as a whole marvellous, their conscientiousness must be regarded as questionable. Especially in the later productions, from 1654 onwards we often detect a lack of earnestness and of the calm and concentrated study of nature which alone prevent expression from degenerating into grimace in situations like those generally depicted by Teniers. His education, and still more his real and assumed position in society, to a great degree account for this. Brouwer knew more of taverns; Ostade was more thoroughly at home in cottages and humble dwellings; Teniers, throughout, triumphs in broad daylight, and, though many of his interiors may be justly termed masterpieces, they seldom equal his open-air scenes, where he has, without constraint, given full play to the bright resources of his luminous palette. In this respect he often suggests comparisons with Natteau. But his subjects taken from the Gospels or sacred legend are absurd. An admirable picture in the Louvre shows “Peter Denying his Master” next to a table where soldiers are smoking and having a game at cards. A similar example is the “Deliverance of St Peter from Prison” of which two versions, curiously altered, are in the Dresden Gallery and the Wallace Collection. He likes going back to subjects illustrated two centuries before by Jerome Bosch—the “Temptation of St Anthony,” the “Rich Man in Hell,” incantations and witches for the simple purpose of assembling the most comic apparitions. His villagers drink, play bowls, dance and sing; they seldom quarrel or tight, and, if they do, seem to be shamming. This much may be said of Teniers, that no painter shows a more enviable ability to render a conception to his own and other people’s satisfaction. His works have a technical freshness, a straightforwardness in means and intent, which make the study of them most delightful; as Sir Joshua Reynolds says, they are worthy of the closest attention of any painter who desires to excel in the mechanical knowledge of his art.

As an etcher Teniers compares very unfavourably with Ostade, Cornelis, Bega and Dusart. More than 500 plates were made from his pictures; and, if it be true that Louis XIV. judged his “baboons” (magots) unworthy of a place in the royal collections, they found admirable engravers in France-Le Bas and his scholars—and passionate admirers. The duke of Bedford’s admirable specimen was sold for 18,030 livres (£1860) in 1768. The “Prodigal Son,” now in the Louvre. fetched 30,000 livres (£3095) in 1776. Smith’s highest estimates have long since been greatly exceeded. The “Archers” in St Petersburg he gives as worth £2000. The Belgian government gave £5000 in 1867; for the “Village Pastoral” of 1652, which is now in the Brussels Museum; and a picture of the “Prodigal Son,” scarcely 16 by 28 inches, fetched £5280 in 1876.

Although van Tilborgh, who was a scholar of Teniers in Brussels, followed his style with some success, and later painters often excelled in figure-painting on a small scale, Teniers cannot be said to have formed a school. Properly speaking, he is the last representative of the great Flemish traditions of the 17th century.

See T. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters; John Vermoelen, Notice historique sur David Teniers et sa famille; L. Galesloot, Quelques renseignements sur la famille de P. P. Rubens et le décès de David Teniers and Un procès de David Teniers et la corporation des peintres à Bruxelles; Alph. Wauters, Histoire des environs de Bruxelles and Les tapisseries bruxelloises; F. T. Van der Brandern, Geschiedenis der Antwerpsche Schilderschool; Max Rooses, Geschichte der Malerschule Antwerpens; W. Bode, Adriaen Brouwer, ein Bild seines Lebens und seines Schaffens.  (H. H.; P. G. K.) 

  1. Under the name of Weenix.
  2. It was not until recent years that the MS. inventory of this collection was discovered among the papers of Prince Schwartzenberg in Vienna. It was published in 1883 by Adolf Berger. In 1658 Teniers published 243 etchings after the best Italian works of Leopold William's collection, which, with the portraits of the archduke and Teniers, were brought together as a volume in 1660, under the title El Teatro de Pinturas.