7.1 Appreciation for Jan Weenix
What particularly excited my admiration was a set of pictures by Weenix … of all the animals that serve for the sports of the chase. Immediately above these pictures, the eye was carried over a vast and extensive landscape. … An exact attention to Nature was discoverable in […] the manes of the horses, the plumage of the birds, the antlers of the deer, and the talons of the hawks […] It is almost impossible to believe it to be the creation of human art; the pencil seems inadequate to produce such an effect.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
This was the favorable reaction of the German poet upon seeing Jan Weenix’ large painting cycle at Bensberg Castle near Düsseldorf in 1774.1 In the early 18th century Jan Weenix (1641-1719) had received the largest and most prestigious commission of his career and one that would have created envy among his fellow Dutchmen, to paint a series of monumental decorative paintings for a German prince in his castle.2
To understand and appreciate Jan Weenix (1641-1719), one has to know his father and teacher, Jan Baptist Weenix (1621-1659) .3 Jan Baptist Weenix belonged to the second generation of Italianate Dutch painters. He spent four years in Rome and upon his return to Holland in 1647, he established himself first in Amsterdam, then in Utrecht, and lastly in the Castle Ter Mey, near De Haar. He died bankrupt in April 1659, at the age of only 39. His estate and Bankruptcy File, unearthed through archival research4 can be considered a major 17th-century document. It informs us in exceptional detail about the daily life of a painter in the Golden Age, with lists of studio supplies, his library contents, as well as his wine and beer consumption. In addition to his son, his nephew Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1636-1695) had been a pupil of the elder Weenix – they were the only two students he ever took on.
When Jan Baptist Weenix died, Jan Weenix was just 18 years old and perhaps because of his young age, early in his career he painted mostly Italianate landscapes and genre scenes in the style of his father. Occasionally he also received commissions to paints portraits. In 1686 he portayed the ship owner A. van Goor  , set against a port in the distance in a style his father had used. He also included a dog, based on a drawing by his father. The drawing used to be attributed to Nicolaes Berchem, but now can be recognized as the work of the elder Weenix .5 Jan Weenix could have studied the monkey from life  and perhaps kept the small canvas in his studio, as it appears in many paintings, from portraits to still lifes, until the end of his career. He included this Common Squirrel Monkey (Lat. saimiri sciureus) for instance in the large painting of the Wassenaer country house 'Rijxdorp' at the Rijksmuseum  and in the magnificent Flowers on a Fountain with a Peacock in the Wallace Collection, London .
Jan Baptist Weenix
Italian landscape with inn and ancient ruins, dated 1658
panel, oil paint 68,2 x 87,2 cm
The Hague, Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis, inv./cat.nr. 901
Portrait of the ship-owner A. van Goor, dated 1686
canvas, oil paint 78,3 x 69,6 cm
upper left : J Weenix. 1686.
London, art dealer Rafael Valls Limited, inv./cat.nr. 39
Jan Baptist Weenix
paper, black chalk, counterproof, reworked with black chalk 156 x 202 mm
lower left : Berchem
Haarlem, Teylers Museum, inv./cat.nr. Q 5
Study of a monk holding a hazelnut, before 1686
canvas, oil paint 29,9 x 29,5 cm
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./cat.nr. SK-A-5053
Hunting and fruit still life next to a garden vase with a monkey, dog and two doves, in the distance Rijksdorp near Wassenaar, seat of Jacob Emmery, Baron of Wassenaar, dated 1714
canvas, oil paint 172 x 160 cm
upper left : J. Weenix f. 1714
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./cat.nr. SK-A-462
Peacock an monkey with flowers and fruit at e fountain sculpted with putti and eagle in a park, c. 1699
canvas, oil paint 177 x 165 cm
London, Wallace Collection, inv./cat.nr. P59
During his further development, Jan Weenix came to specialize in animal and hunting still lifes with landscape or park-like settings. One could argue that he established the hunting trophy still life in the second half of the 17th century. He gradually and successfully transformed his style in line with the new appreciation of the late 17th and early 18th century – a more courtly taste. Not only Goethe, but also Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), founder and first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, admired the Bensberg series of Jan Weenix; he visited the castle in 1781. He praised Jan Weenix for his rich, vibrant colors, skillful brushwork, and proficiency in rendering materials and textures.6 These qualities remain attractive for today’s viewers.7 Weenix had the skill of rendering the wealth and abundance of nature. In addition, the genre he established reveals a great deal about a changed society and the role of hunting within that society.
1 Goethe 1948-1974, vol. 10 (1962), p. 685. I used the early English translation, Goethe 1824, p. 108-109.
2 On Jan Weenix: Van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven 2018A. This article highlights some of the research for this publication, especially p. 51-58 and 378-396.
3 On Jan Baptist Weenix: Van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven 2018. The question of authorship of the works by father Jan Baptist Weenix and son Jan Weenix has mystified writers and art historians for centuries; a desire to unravel the confusion was the main reason to undertake a study of both artists instead of focus on one and not the other.
4 Van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven 2018A, p. 320-439. I am grateful to Marten Jan Bok for generously sharing many archival findings.
5 Van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven 2018A, p. 153.
6 Reynolds/Mount 1996, p. 139
7 For similar commandations for Weenix’ artistry as Reynolds: Sullivan 1984, p. 61-67.