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Landscape with a Girl Tending Sheep by a Stream



Paul Theodor Van Brussel (1754-1795)
Landscape with a Girl Tending Sheep by a Stream
oil on panel
AGLC 383 @ A.G Leventis Gallery

This little panel shows a shepherdess with a spindle in her hand, amidst a stand of birch trees, keeping guard over four sheep. Behind her is a rustic little farmhouse; on the closed lower half of the wooden door lies a cat. There is a windmill behind this dwelling, to the left, and to the right stands a wooden toilet shed, a gemak, on the bank of a little stream. In the background there is a church surrounded by a ruinous wall. A shepherd walks there to the right with his herd of six sheep. Apparently he is headed toward the little town on the horizon. This idyllic scene was evidently a product of the artist’s imagination, and he painted it in a precious manner, with a good eye for narrative detail. Although the last two digits of the date in the bottom left corner are hard to read, this lovely scene was possibly made in 1784. Thanks to the signature, it is evident that we are dealing with one of the very rare landscapes by Paul Theodor van Brussel, an artist who garnered an international reputation for his fruit and flower still lifes: the National Gallery in London has at least three of his paintings in this genre, while the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and other eminent public collections also own still lifes by the master. 

Only one other landscape by Paul Theodor’s hand is known, a dune landscape with travellers and a village church in the background. Judging from the rarity of his landscapes, it comes as no surprise that the authorship of Paul Theodor was cast in doubt and that most of his works in this genre were therefore attributed to his namesake, Hermanus van Brussel (1763-1815), who specialised in landscapes. A good example is the drawing of a village scene in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, which still carries Hermanus’ name. However, judging from the stylistic affinity with the two painted landscapes presently known, it is evident that this drawing also comes from the hand of Paul Theodor and not that of Hermanus. In all cases, the artist based parts of his compositions on his fertile imagination. The amalgam of motifs was not put together completely in accordance with the rules of perspective, resulting in a ‘realistic’ image that is, paradoxically, unconvincing.  

Paul Theodor van Brussel was born in 1754 in the little village of Zuid-Polsbroek near Schoonhoven, where his father was a Protestant preacher. He was trained as an artist in the large studio of Jan Augustini (1725-1773) in Haarlem. Augustini had a behangselfabriek, which specialised in the production of canvas wallcoverings on which imaginary landscapes and still lifes were painted; complete rooms were decorated in this fashion. After his marriage in 1774, van Brussel settled in Amsterdam, where he produced still lifes in the manner of Jan van Huysum (1682-1749). On a night in March 1795 he fell into a canal and drowned, only 41 years old. Nevertheless, we know of more than 30 elaborate drawn and painted still lifes, besides the landscapes discussed above. For his Amsterdam patron Warnar Wreesman Borghartsz., he even painted a church interior.

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About the artist

He was trained in the studio of Jan Augustini in Haarlem and then settled in Amsterdam. He gained an international reputation for his fruit and flower still lifes; landscapes such as the one presented here are rare in his oeuvre.

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