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Oil painting - The Philosopher
  • The Philosopher
    Keyser, Nicaise de, born 1813 - died 1887
  • Enlarge image

The Philosopher

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Antwerp (city) (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1850 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Keyser, Nicaise de, born 1813 - died 1887 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend

  • Museum number:

    1557-1869

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

A white-haired bearded old man sits reading in a chair in his study, he rests his head in his hand and is surrounded by books, a quill pen and ink, various different types of vessels and a globe; a cat sits at his feet and a human skeleton hangs on the wall. Nicaise De Keyser (1813-1887) was a Belgian painter trained at the Academie in Antwerp with Mathieu Ignace Van Brée. He achieved his first success with altarpieces influenced by Rubens but by 1836 had made a name for himself as one of the leading figures of historical Romanticism. Commissions from royal courts and prominent families in Belgium and abroad followed. He travelled to England and Scotland (1835), Italy (1840), Germany (1865, 1868, 1869 and 1871) and Spain (1878, 1880). In 1848 he became a member of the Koninklijke Academie in Brussels and from 1855 to 1879 he was director of the Academie in Antwerp. Both his large history paintings and his smaller genre pieces such as 1557-1869 are Romantic in subject-matter, inspiration and in the Baroque character of composition. The composition and subject matter of 1557-1869 recall the work of David Teniers the younger (1610-1690), a 17th century Antwerp artist who produced numerous paintings of philosophers and alchemists in their studies. In works such as V&A 525-1870 Teniers depicted an alchemist studying or devising experiments, surrounded by crucibles, alembics (distillation flasks) or athanors (large metal furnaces that resemble stoves), books, hourglasses, globes.

Physical description

A white-haired bearded old man sits reading in a chair in his study, he rests his head in his hand and is surrounded by books, a quill pen and ink, various different types of vessels and a globe; a cat sits at his feet and a human skeleton hangs on the wall

Place of Origin

Antwerp (city) (probably, painted)

Date

ca. 1850 (painted)

Artist/maker

Keyser, Nicaise de, born 1813 - died 1887 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas

Marks and inscriptions

'DK'
Signed by the artist, lower left

Dimensions

Height: 52 cm approx., Width: 42 cm approx., :

Object history note

Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend, 1868
Ref : Parkinson, Ronald, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860. Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990. p.xix.

'Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868) was born into a wealthy family, only son of Henry Hare Townsend of Busbridge Hall, Godalming, Surrey. Educated at Eton and Trinity Hall, Cambridge (BA 1821). Succeeded to the family estates 1827, when he added 'h' to the Townsend name. He had taken holy orders, but while he always referred to himself as 'Rev.' on the title pages of his books, he never practised his vocation... . Very much a dilettante in the eighteenth-century sense, he moved in the highest social and literary circles; a great friend of Charles Dickens (he was the dedicatee of Great Expectations) with whom he shared a fascination of mesmerism... Bulwer Lytton described his life's 'Beau-deal of happiness' as 'elegant rest, travel, lots of money - and he is always ill and melancholy'. Of the many watercolours and British and continental oil paintings he bequeathed to the V&A, the majority are landscapes. He is the first identifiable British collector of early photographs apart from the Prince Consort, particularly landscape photography, and also collected gems and geological specimens.'

Historical significance: Nicaise De Keyser (1813-1887) was a Belgian painter trained at the Academie in Antwerp with Mathieu Ignace Van Brée. He achieved his first success with altarpieces influenced by Rubens but by 1836 had made a name for himself as one of the leading figures of historical Romanticism. Commissions from royal courts and prominent families in Belgium and abroad followed. He travelled to England and Scotland (1835), Italy (1840), Germany (1865, 1868, 1869 and 1871) and Spain (1878, 1880). In 1848 he became a member of the Koninklijke Academie in Brussels and from 1855 to 1879 he was director of the Academie in Antwerp. Both his large history paintings and his smaller genre pieces such as 1557-1869 are Romantic in subject-matter, inspiration and in the Baroque character of composition. The composition and subject matter of 1557-1869 recall the work of David Teniers the younger (1610-1690), a 17th century Antwerp artist who produced numerous paintings of philosophers and alchemists in their studies. In works such as V&A 525-1870 Teniers depicted an alchemist studying or devising experiments, surrounded by crucibles, alembics (distillation flasks) or athanors (large metal furnaces that resemble stoves), books, hourglasses, globes.

Historical context note

The artistic relationships between the Northern and the Southern Netherlands, that is modern-day Holland and Belgium, were very strong during the 19th century especially after the proclamation of the Kingdom of Netherlands in 1815. The Prix de Rome was awarded equally to Antwerp and Amsterdam artists, even after the independence of Belgium in 1830. The majority of Belgian art of the first half of the 19th century, including history painting, genre scenes, landscape and portrait paintings, articulated a new national pride which nevertheless drew upon French academic tastes. Artists such as Jean-Bernard Duvivier (1762-1837), Henry Leys (1815-1869) and Karel Verlat (1824-1890) made extensive use of these renewed genres in their oeuvre. Belgian artists travelled a great deal, not only for training purposes in the tradition of their artistic predecessors but for the sake of discovering new surroundings and making new acquaintances and Paris was their favourite destination. While Italy also remained a popular, the majority of these artists tended to move on to other areas of interest, such as Morocco, less for their artistic traditions, and more for their exotic aspects.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'The Philosopher', Nicaise de Keyser, ca. 1850

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, II. 1800-1900 . London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 55, cat. no. 118.
H. Hymans, Notice sur la vie et les travaux de N. De Keyser. Antwerp, 1889.
Gustav Friedrich Waagen, Galleries and cabinets of art in Great Britain : being an account of more than forty collections of paintings, drawings, sculptures, mss., &c. &c. visited in 1854 and 1856, and now for the first time described : forming a supplemental volume to the Treasures of art in Great Britain. London : William Clowes and Sons, 1857. p. 178.
Waagen, Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain: Being an account of more than forty collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Mss, etc, London, 1857, p.178.

Materials

Oil paint; Canvas

Techniques

Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Vessels; Cat; Globes (cartographic spheres); Philosophers; Quill pens; Skeleton

Categories

Paintings

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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