Anna Ruysch came from a preeminent Dutch family that lived in Amsterdam on the fashionable Bloemgracht (Flower Canal).
Her father Frederik was a renowned professor of anatomy and botany and supervisor of the Amsterdam botanical garden. In the 1690s, he established a museum for his remarkably life-like anatomical specimens. See Adriaen Backer, Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Frederik Ruysch, 1670 in the collection of the Amsterdam Museum.
Anna’s mother Maria Post came from an artistic family that had ties to the House of Orange-Nassau. Her uncle Frans painted the flora and fauna of Brazil and her father Pieter was a well-known architect. Anna’s older sister Rachel became an internationally famous artist, considered by some to be one of the finest floral still life painters of all time.
At age 21, Anna married the paint dealer Isaak Hellenbroek, with whom she had at least six children. After Isaak’s death in 1749, Anna—aged 83—continued to run the family’s paint business with her son Frederik Hendrik, which was located on the Damrak: Amsterdam’s principal avenue. Along with her son, two daughters survived to adulthood: Elisabeth Susanna and Anna Geertruijd.
Anna Ruysch died at age 87. In her will, she left several paintings to her children, including two of her floral still lifes for each daughter.
Anna likely studied with the Amsterdam still life painter Willem van Aelst, as her older sister Rachel did from the age of 15 or 16. Anna’s paintings greatly resemble Rachel’s in both style and subject matter. See Rachel Ruysch, Still Life with Flowers on a Marble Tabletop, 1716 in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Anna, however, produced significantly fewer works because she painted as a hobby and not a profession. And Anna, like most seventeenth-century artists, rarely signed her work. But because she painted for pleasure her paintings, signed or not, are quite rare.
Author: Maureen Warren, curator of European and American Art, 2017.