Not currently on display at the V&A

A Chemist in His Laboratory

Oil Painting
19th century (painted)
Artist/Maker

A chemist (alchemist?) sits a desk in his laboratory holding aloft a glass beaker containing an amber liquid, he is surrounded by books and glass and earthenware vessels and is attended by a man holding a basket, three assistants work at a table in the background. David Teniers II (1610-1690) apprenticed with his father, David Teniers I, with whom he also collaborated. Teniers's genre pieces were greatly prized by Antwerp dealers and made him famous. By 1647 he was working for Archduke Leopold William, Governor of the southern Netherlands. Teniers's early work is similar to that of Adriaen Brouwer, who settled in Antwerp in 1631. After his peasant genres, Alchemy was the artist's favourite theme. Alchemist's activities were of interest to many artists in the seventeenth century as the pigments and glazes used were produced by similar methods. Alchemy constituted an integral part of 17th century scientific thought as little distinction was made between alchemy, chemistry and medicine. As in 525-1870, Teniers often depicted his alchemists studying or devising experiments in their laboratories, surrounded by objects such as crucibles, alembics (distillation flasks) or athanors (large metal furnaces that resemble stoves) together with books, hourglasses and globes. The V&A picture appears to be a later work by an artist looking at several of Teniers' paintings of alchemists. The primary figure in the V&A picture looks much like The Alchemist now in Leipzig and similar to Teniers' 1680 self-portrait as an alchemist now in Munich.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Oil on oak panel
Brief Description
Oil painting, 'A Chemist in his Laboratory', follower of David Teniers the younger, 19th century
Physical Description
A chemist (alchemist?) sits a desk in his laboratory holding aloft a glass beaker containing an amber liquid, he is surrounded by books and glass and earthenware vessels and is attended by a man holding a basket, three assistants work at a table in the background
Dimensions
  • Estimate height: 25.5cm
  • Estimate width: 38cm
Dimensions taken from Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, C.M. Kauffmann, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1973
Style
Credit line
Bequeathed by John M. Parsons
Object history
Bequeathed by John M. Parsons, 1870



Historical significance: David Teniers II (1610-1690) apprenticed with his father, David Teniers I, with whom he also collaborated. Teniers's genre pieces were greatly prized by Antwerp dealers and made him famous. By 1647 he was working for Archduke Leopold William, Governor of the southern Netherlands. Teniers's early work is similar to that of Adriaen Brouwer, who settled in Antwerp in 1631. During the 1640s and 50s, Teniers began to paint open-air peasant fairs, generally set in front of an inn. After his peasant genres, Alchemy was the artist's favourite theme. Alchemist's activities were of interest to many artists in the seventeenth century as the pigments and glazes used were produced by similar methods. There was also a widespread public interest in the subject at the time, as testified by the numerous alchemical treatises published between 1500-1700. Alchemy constituted an integral part of 17th century scientific thought as little distinction was made between alchemy, chemistry and medicine. As in 525-1870, Teniers often depicted his alchemists studying or devising experiments in their laboratories, surrounded by objects such as crucibles, alembics (distillation flasks) or athanors (large metal furnaces that resemble stoves) together with books, hourglasses and globes. The V&A picture appears to be a later work by an artist looking at several of Teniers' paintings of alchemists. The primary figure in the V&A picture looks much like The Alchemist now in the Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig (1.1065) and similar to Teniers' 1680 self-portrait as an alchemist now in Schleissheim Gallery, Munich.
Historical context
Netherlandish genre painting generally depicted the lower classes of society, especially peasants, but as the demand for such pictures increased throughout the 17th century, the works came to also depict more elevated social classes. These pictures usually depict scenes of everyday life set in domestic interiors or in the countryside. Scholars are still debating whether they bear a metaphorical meaning and hidden messages, or just feature a close depiction of contemporary events. In both case they are associated with health, pleasure and liberty.
Subjects depicted
Summary
A chemist (alchemist?) sits a desk in his laboratory holding aloft a glass beaker containing an amber liquid, he is surrounded by books and glass and earthenware vessels and is attended by a man holding a basket, three assistants work at a table in the background. David Teniers II (1610-1690) apprenticed with his father, David Teniers I, with whom he also collaborated. Teniers's genre pieces were greatly prized by Antwerp dealers and made him famous. By 1647 he was working for Archduke Leopold William, Governor of the southern Netherlands. Teniers's early work is similar to that of Adriaen Brouwer, who settled in Antwerp in 1631. After his peasant genres, Alchemy was the artist's favourite theme. Alchemist's activities were of interest to many artists in the seventeenth century as the pigments and glazes used were produced by similar methods. Alchemy constituted an integral part of 17th century scientific thought as little distinction was made between alchemy, chemistry and medicine. As in 525-1870, Teniers often depicted his alchemists studying or devising experiments in their laboratories, surrounded by objects such as crucibles, alembics (distillation flasks) or athanors (large metal furnaces that resemble stoves) together with books, hourglasses and globes. The V&A picture appears to be a later work by an artist looking at several of Teniers' paintings of alchemists. The primary figure in the V&A picture looks much like The Alchemist now in Leipzig and similar to Teniers' 1680 self-portrait as an alchemist now in Munich.
Bibliographic References
  • Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 268-269, cat. no. 336.
  • Jane P. Davidson. David Teniers the YoungerLondon : Thames and Hudson, 1980.
Collection
Accession Number
525-1870

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record createdFebruary 6, 2007
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