Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Teniers, David
Teniers was chosen by the common council of Antwerp to preside over the guild 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 Belvedere in Vienna, 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. 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 archducal 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 took 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 artists alone should be admitted, whereas the venerable guild of St Luke made no difference between art and handicraft: carvers, gilders, bookbinders, stood on an even footing with painters and sculptors, however great their talent. There were great rejoicings in Antwerp when, on 26th 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 25th April 1690. 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. Cornelia, the painter's daughter, married John Erasmus Quellin, a well-known artist (1634–1715).
Smith's Catalogue Raisonné gives descriptions of over 700 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 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, as in many others, he almost invariably suggests comparisons with Watteau. Equally sparkling and equally joyous, both seem to live in an almost ideal world, where toil, disease, and poverty may exist, but to be soon forgotten, and where sunshine seems everlasting. 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. 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 fight, and, if they do, seem to be shamming. His powers certainly declined with advancing age; the works of 1654 begin to look hasty. But this much may be said of Teniers, that no other 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 procés de David Teniers et la corporation des peintres à Bruxelles; Alph. Wanters, Histoire des environs de Bruxelles and Les tapisseries bruxelloises; F. T. Van der Brandern, Geschiedenis der Antwerpsche Schildersohool; Max Rooses, Geschichte der Malerschule Antwerpens; W. Bode, Adriaen Brouwer, ein Bild seins Lebens und seines Schaffens.(H. H.)
- The Hermitage Catalogue ascribes to Abraham Teniers the portrait of a bishop. This painting is, however, by David, and represents the celebrated bishop of Ghent, Anthony Triist, with his brother Francis, a Franciscan monk.
- Under the name of Weeninx.
- It was not until recently that the MS. inventory of this collection was discovered among the papers of the prince of 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.
- The separation was only obtained in 1773.
- The date is often wrongly given as 1694 or 1695.