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TENIERS was one of those privileged men whom nature so very rarely produces. His father, David Teniers, a skilful painter and a pupil of Rubens, was surnamed the old, to distinguish him from his son, and first introduced him into that career in which he was destined to excel.
There are few of the Flemish painters that have done greater honour to that celebrated school, than Teniers, if we except Rubens and Vandyck. It was from the works of the first of those painters, that Teniers derived that truth of design and admirable greatness of colouring, for which he is so remarkable. He is, in fact, Rubens in miniature; there is the same mind, the same vigour; but he has better knowledge of the chiaro-scuro, than the great man whom he had proposed as his model.
His wonderfully retentive memory enabled him to retrace the objects which had once attracted his notice. By a simple sketch with the light touch of genius, he had the art of representing what to others was a work of serious difficulty and labour; yet there are few painters that have more faithfully imitated nature than Teniers. No one has excelled him in the neatness of his touch, and the clear transparency of his colouring. No one knew better how to give to every object its appropriate features and dress; no one had a more original genius, or possessed a greater combination of talents. His light and easy hand seemed to play with his art, and only to
skim the canvass, upon which so many charming scenes placed themselves without effort or labour-a simple ground, a light level, and the most delicate touches, produce the effect commonly observable in his pictures.
He was the most prolific of painters. Europe is filled with his name and his works. It was in allusion to this extreme facility of execution, that connoisseurs have proverbially called his little pieces the after-suppers ́of Teniers.
Antwerp, that city so fruitful in illustrious artists, had the honour of giving him birth in 1610. There he passed the greater part of his life, beloved and esteemed as a man of virtue, as well as of extraordinary talents. For sometime, however, after he commenced painter, his merit was so little regarded, that he was often under the necessity of going in person to Brussels to dispose of his own pictures, as well as those that were painted by his disciples, and was as often mortified to find the paintings of Tilburg Artois, Van Heil, and others, preferred to his own, although they were in every respect greatly inferior. Fortune at length smiled on his labour, and by the sweetness of his conduct, and the amenity of his manners, opened to himself an easy access to the greatest men of his time. He was equally beloved and considered by his cotemporary artists, and was by them elected director of the academy at Antwerp.
The painting-room of this eminent artist was the rendezvous of all the distinguished personages in Flanders. The Archduke Leopold William made him Gentleman of his Chamber, and presented him with his portrait, enriched with diamonds. Christian of Sweden made him a similar present. The King of Spain had so
high an opinion of his merit, that he constructed a gallery, destined solely for the works of Teniers. Louis the Fourteenth, however, who had a view in general to something great, used to say, when the persons who bought pictures for him attempted to introduce any of Teniers' into his collection, in allusion to the little miserable human figures with which they abound, "Qu'on m'ote ces magots de devant mes yeux," Take away from my sight those little baboons.
He afterwards quitted Antwerp, and inhabited a small castle called the three Towers, in the village of Perch, between Antwerp and Malines. By retiring thither, he wished to shun the great world, and devote himself to his prevailing taste in the study and imitation of nature. It was in mixing in the games of the inhabitants of the village, that he sketched so many rural scenes; and his memory even fled to retrace the sports in which he had himself been a performer. The vivacity of his mind did not permit him to dwell long on each separate picture.
Teniers, in quitting Antwerp, had hoped to withdraw himself from the conflux of his admirers; but fame, which always accompanies extraordinary merit, attracted to his retreat a still greater crowd. It became, at length, a sort of court, to which the nobility frequently resorted. Don Juan, of Austria, often lodged at his house, and desired to be admitted in the number of his pupils. He removed, at length, to Brussels, where he attained to a very advanced age, without losing, for a moment, the joy and lively humour that had always distinguished him. Death surprised him as he held the pencil in his hand. He was then finishing the portrait of a lawyer; and his Jast words were, in humourous allusion to this circum
stance: "I have burnt," said he, "my last tooth, in painting this lawyer."
The paintings of Teniers are remarkable for their great variety of composition, their abundance of figures without confusion, the correctness of style, and that originality of design which belonged only to him. Every style of painting was familiar to him; battles, marches of armies, animals, the sea, all appeared to receive new life under the hands of this inimitable artist. He had formed a handsome collection of pictures of the different schools, particularly of the Venetian, the colouring of which he admired and successfully imitated.
Teniers had a ready and lively invention, and was full as ready to execute as to invent; he made nature his model perpetually, and imitated it with astonishing exactness and truth. His pencil is free and delicate; the touching of his trees is light and firm; his skies are admirable, and although not very much varied, are clear and brilliant. And as to the expression of his figures, whether they are mirthful or grave, in anger or in good humour, nothing can be more strongly marked, more striking or natural. His pictures are generally clear in all their parts, with a beautiful transparence; and it is observed of them, by several writers, that he possessed the art of relieving his lights by other lights, without employing deep shadows, and yet produced the intended effect in a very surprising manner. That method of practice, it is thought, was derived from an observation communicated to him by Rubens, which was, that strong oppositions were not always necessary to produce a fine effect in a picture; and that observation Rubens knew infallibly to be just, from his shading the colouring and tints of Titian with accuracy and judgment.
His principal subjects are landscapes, with small figures, Corps de Garde, merry makings, kirmesses, fairs, shooting at butts, playing at bowls, and the diversions, sports, or occupations of villagers; but any of those subjects which he painted on a small size, are, by many degrees, preferable to those of larger dimensions. Connoisseurs have objected to the compositions of Teniers, that his figures are too short and clumsy, and that there appears too much sameness in the countenances and habits; but it ought to be considered, that as he designed every object after nature, and formed his colours from that nature with which he was most conversant, he may indeed be thought not to have given an elegance to his forms equal to the Italian ideas of elegance. But of such elegance as appeared in his models, there is sufficient to demonstrate the goodness of his choice, and the most exact precision in every character and every expression; and the incredible prices which are given for the paintings of this master, in every part of Europe, are an incontestible evidence of the universal esteem and admiration of his works.
Some amateurs have censured him for the greyish colour which predominates in some of his pieces; but this may perhaps be considered as a merit in Teniers, as it gives to his pictures a clearness and greatness which cannot but please the eye.
Teniers, whose life was a calm and uninterruped course of real enjoyments, expired in 1694.
"The works of David Teniers, jun." says Sir Joshua Reynolds," are worthy of the closest attention of a painter who desires to excel in the mechanical knowledge of his art. His manner of touching, or what we call handling,