Dutch artist Nicolaes Berchem is considered one of the greatest artists of the Italianate landscape style working in the Netherlands during the 17th century.
Born in Haarlem, Berchem first received art lessons from his father, renowned still life painter Pieter Claesz (1597-1660). Further education was received from other great painters of the time including Jan van Goyen (1596-1656) and Claes Corneliszoon Moeyaert (1592-1655). This was a great period for art in the Netherlands, known famously as the Dutch Golden Age. During this time, the Dutch were culturally, politically, and economically flourishing ahead of the rest of Europe. Berchem could have been nowhere better to begin to pursue an artistic career.
Indeed, the influence of his teachers is very evident in his early work. Goyen in particular was an inspiration, his realist touch and his ochre palette are echoed in Berchem’s pieces.
Berchem became appointed to the Guild of Saint Luke in Haarlem in 1642, allowing him to work professionally as an artist. The details from this point forwards are a little unclear. It is known that Berchem did take a trip to Italy at some point during his life, but whether in the 1640s or 1650s is unknown. Nonetheless, as his career developed, he became more and more influenced by the zestful Italianate landscape paintings being produced by his peers. His cousin, Jan Baptist Weenix (1621-1659), and Jan Both (1618-1652) were particular influences. At some point, this passion was then fuelled further by his own trip to Italy.
Italianate landscapes captured the glorious sun-glinted scenes of the Mediterranean and the vibrant array of colours illuminated by such light. In contrast to the dark, earthy tones of Dutch landscapes, these paintings burst onto the scene and set the Dutch painting market alight, becoming incredibly popular.
Berchem paints with as much vigour of spirit as embodies any great Italianate landscape painter. Rich colours infuse his scenes with the hazy glean of the Mediterranean sun, picking up the detail of each bustling bush and full-fledged tree. The details in the cattle he often places, lounging on plush grass, adds another layer of skill to his paintings, as do the figures adorned in traditional country clothing. There is a rustic simplicity to the scenes then coronated by Berchem’s adept brush with a layer of glorious atmosphere.
Berchem became incredibly popular, his works often being reproduced and printed both during his lifetime and later on during the 17th and 18th centuries. Estimates place the output of artworks during his life as being between 700 and 800 works. No wonder, then, that Berchem became an influential figure in the Dutch art world who held many close ties and connections with other artists.
He was a particular friend of Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/29-1682), the two men travelling together to Benthiem, Germany for painting inspiration, and collaborating on a number of works. Indeed, Berchem often helped other artists by painting in the ‘staffage,’ meaning the animals and people, into their landscapes. Later in his career, he also collaborated with the engraver Jan de Visscher (1636-1692) on designing an atlas.
Berchem was also a teacher, taking on numerous students who became incredibly influenced by his service. Prominent students include Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684) and Abraham Begeyn (1637-1697).
As stated, Berchem remained very popular long after his death. It was only in the 19th century when new styles of landscape painting were becoming popular that his reputation waned a little. British landscape painter John Constable (1776-1837), who pushed for a more naturalist style, perceived Berchem’s work to be a ‘bastard style of landscape.’ He apparently advised someone to burn the examples of Berchem’s work they had in their collection.
Nonetheless, owing to the importance of the Dutch Golden Age to the later developments in art, Berchem’s work has remained a classic example of the Italianate style of landscape painting.
Born in Haarlem, Netherlands.
Became a member of the Guild of Saint Luke, Haarlem.
Married Catrijne Claes de Groot.
Travelled to Bentheim with Jacob van Ruisdael.
Moved permanently to Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Died in Amsterdam, Netherlands.