David Teniers the Younger
Biography of Dutch Genre-Painter, Antwerp School.

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Gambling Scene at an Inn (1649)
Wallace Collection. A typical example
of 17th century Dutch painting by
David Teniers.

For a quick reference guide, see:
Flemish Baroque (1660-80)
Antwerp-based painting.
Dutch Baroque Art (1600-80)
17th Century painting.
Dutch Realist Artists. For their
main type of painting, see:
Dutch Realist Genre Painting.

David Teniers the Younger (1610-90)


David Teniers, one of the leading Flemish painters of the 17th century, was born at Antwerp, in 1610, admitted to the mastery in 1633, married a rich heiress, and received every honour up to a title of nobility. His father, David Teniers the Elder, was a painter who had studied at Rome with Elsheimer. The young David saw his father paint little mythologies and idyls, tavern scenes, pictures of sorcerers and alchemists. That great vagrant genius, Adriaen Brouwer (1605-38), was at Antwerp in the early 1630's, and his was a leading influence on young David Teniers until his fortieth year. In the manner of Adriaen Brouwer he painted over 100 genre-paintings of tavern scenes, in keeping with the new aesthetics of Protestant Reformation art (c.1520-1700). Technically, there is a predominance of Brouwer's diaphanous browns about a single colour note. Psychologically, the attitude is quite different. For Brouwer the pot-house was a place of joyous or frantic disorder; for Teniers it was a place of decent conviviality. And, while he repeats Brouwer's cellar installation, with large still-life features in foreground, Teniers does not shut the space in, in Brouwer's sinister fashion. Teniers likes to give glimpses into adjoining rooms, and typically introduces more figures. See also: Baroque Art (1600-1700).

See: Greatest Paintings Ever.

For details and information about
the 17th Century style of easel-art
which flourished in Holland, see:
Frans Snyders (1579-1657)
Still life painter from Antwerp.
Frans Hals
Antwerp Portraitist
Hendrik Terbrugghen (1588-1629)
Painter of the Utrecht school.
Adriaen van Ostade (1610-85)
Peasant scene artist, from Haarlem.
Rembrandt (1606-69)
Unique portraiture, self portraits.
Gerard Terborch (1617-81)
Genre painter, Amsterdam, Haarlem.

For the best still life painters:
Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-83)
Utrecht School of Dutch Realism.
Willem Kalf (1619-93)
Pronkstilleven Paintings.
Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-78)
Interiors, genre works, still lifes.
Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750)
Flower painter, still lifes.
Jan Steen 1626-79)
Leiden artist: tavern scenes.
Jacob Van Ruisdael (1628-82)
Haarlem-born landscape painter
Pieter de Hooch (1629-83)
Famous Delft school genre-painter.
Jan Vermeer (1632-75)
Delft school Dutch Realist artist.

Early Paintings

Of the many pictures of this sort the Smokers, is one of the most handsomely lighted, constructed and composed. The view of people about a fireplace in a back room is charmingly introduced and most skillfully subordinated. Of similar tact in placing many figures at varying distances is the Smoker. A personal interest attaches to the Self-portrait in an Inn. The handsome young painter looks out between the big wineglass which he holds in one hand while he keeps a magnificent five gallon jug at uneasy balance on the floor with the other. The still life, a cask, the big jug, a rude bench with pots on and under it, is delightfully painted, and there is the usual reassuring glimpse of a group, in the back room, quietly occupied about a table and before a fireplace. These pictures all fall about his thirtieth year and show a fine accomplishment.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest view painters, see:
Best Landcape Artists.
For the greatest still life art, see:
Best Still Life Painters.
For the greatest portraitists
see: Best Portrait Artists.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.
For the top allegorical painting,
see: Best History Painters.


Soon Teniers got a great reputation for incredibly speedy workmanship. It is recorded that he could finish one of these carefully executed oil paintings in the late afternoon hours. They were called, whether mockingly or admiringly we do not know, his "after dinners."

While chiefly engaged with his tavern themes, Teniers sought a wider interest in certain pictures of alchemists busy in their laboratories, or saints afflicted by diabolical temptations. His father had treated such subjects, and Jerome Bosch had with rare mastery interpreted the theme of temptation as hallucination. The alchemist pictures are among the most complicated Teniers ever attempted. He rejoices in the jumble of scientific apparatus and multiplies secondary incidents. In his handling of the subject there is no satire. He takes the alchemist at face value, as a scientist, which suggests that he himself was credulous, for, with the beginnings of real science alchemy was already losing prestige.

The Temptations are more amusing than impressive. Teniers never rises to the grotesque and horrific possibilities of the theme. He is a true Netherlander in feeling that no woman is physically alluring unless she be expensively dressed, and in the latest mode. Thus the temptresses who are led up to St. Anthony by an ingratiating horned witch look like the modest Dutch gentlewomen whom Gabriel Metsu (1629-67) painted so admiringly. St. Anthony himself seems more shocked at the impropriety of a woman invading his wilderness than deeply moved by the woman's attractiveness. The demons and monsters who sit or fly about are made up from stuffed fish or monkeys, and again are mildly amusing, and produce no terror. All this may be verified in the Temptation at the Prado in Madrid, which is one of the best of its class. It has much romantic charm and no seriousness whatever.

In 1637 David married, with customary prudence, Anna, the orphan daughter of the popular and prosperous painter, Jan Bruegel. The seventeen-year-old bride brought a rich dowry. The Teniers took a good old farmhouse in the suburb of Perck. David Teniers built three superfluous towers, apparently for the sole reason that he might hail from the "Three Towers" as a country gentleman's address. Six children came along rapidly. Meadow landscape, picturesque peasant huts, groves, canals, peasant jollifications, met his eye when he took his morning constitutional or strolled out after the completion of the almost daily "after dinner" picture. Out of the freshness of these new impressions grew his most charming works - the kermesses, peasant games out-of-doors - or those of himself and Anna taking the air within sight of the Three Towers, or seated on the terrace, as the versatile artist plays on a big cello, with the belfry of the parish church, and a pet monkey on a parapet against the sky, and a well-stocked wine-cooler prominent in the foreground.

Rubens had been a witness at Teniers' wedding, and from that year or perhaps a little earlier his influence is marked. The brown sauce of Brouwer pretty well disappears from Teniers' palette, his pictures are still tonal rather than colourful, but the colour tone is subtly achieved through a harmony of many hues and tints. Rubens, in his final delicate style, had abandoned his old frank colour in favour of a magic which is able to give his warm neutrals a suggestion of every sort of colour. His opalescences were inimitable, but Teniers intelligently grasped the principle behind them and applied it in his own cautious fashion.

The famous kermesses represent this new open-air phase most strikingly. It is a problem of giving to fifty or so tiny figures sufficient individual character without losing the animation of the dance, of studying the effect of light on crumbling plastered walls and on thatched roofs, of representing the looming of crisp masses of foliage against the sky, and the fading hues of distant foliage. All this the country gentleman, David Teniers, manages, arranges and carries off with the skill and animation of a peasant dance manager. There is little to choose among the score or so rather big pictures of this sort - all are masterly, all lack the demonic energy that Peter Bruegel, the Dionysiac rapture that Rubens gave to such themes. Teniers feels nothing beyond the collective jolliness. It is enough, however, to inspire many delightful pictures.

Possibly even better are the landscape paintings in which the figure interest is slighter. Here the picture of himself and his wife before his country house is notable, (National Gallery London). Men are hauling a net in a canal before the point from which two of the three towers rise proudly before the evening sky. Teniers, booted, hatted and cloaked like an officer, stands indifferently while an aged and obsequious fisherman is about to offer a fine fish to Madame, attired like a princess. A superfluous maid and page emphasize the gentility of the pair. This group is merely tucked in a corner, the picture being essentially a landscape, but the corner tells a lot about the painter who would be a gentleman.

Pictures of this general sort, in which cottages, trees, meadows and sky share the interest with foreground groups of bowlers, drinkers or talkers, Teniers painted all his life, and the best are perhaps the tiny pictures which he made probably more for his own pleasure than for sale, in his old age. They have been somewhat over-praised. They depend rather upon clever formulas for scenic values than upon repeated or loving observation. Perhaps it is unfair to press damaging comparison with such contemporaries as Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709) and Aelbert Cuyp (1620-90) - to mention only artists who, like Teniers, treated landscape only in its friendlier aspects. Yet such comparisons reveal the tinge of artificiality and the lack of depth of interpretation in these engaging ruralisms of David Teniers.

Guardroom Paintings

In 1644 he was chosen dean of St. Luke's Guild. As if to mark the honour, he extended his repertory. The soldiers of the Spanish garrison attracted him. He painted guardrooms where the warriors are killing time. In one of these pictures, at Amsterdam, the guard plays cards, armour and accoutrements lie about picturesquely in the corners.

The abundant still life in these works Teniers handles most cleverly, also arranging it with taste. The little action involved is well indicated. One senses an ease more complete because it may at any time be broken by an emergency call. Whoever has done guard duty will admit the naturalness of Teniers' interpretation of that life.

Kitchen Paintings

In the 1640s Teniers' Dutch Realism begins to feature a series of kitchen pictures. The subject, with its variety of still life and picturesque possibilities of illumination, had attracted many good Dutch painters. Teniers gave it its most sumptuous expression in the famous Kitchen, 1644. The well-dressed housewife - it can hardly be the cook - sits and peels an apple, a little page holds a basin ready. She is surrounded by what is virtually a market; a great dinner must be in hand. The mounted skin of a swan on a table is ready for its ornamental function. Under the table is a big hare; a leg of mutton, with pheasants and ducks, on the floor; at the right, beside a copper wine cooler, big turbot and smaller fish lie on the floor. Above the housewife's head a plucked turkey hangs by the feet on the wall, forming a sort of trophy and a superbly decorative spot. In the left background are three figures, one of whom superintends the sizzling of no less than twenty roasts of various kinds and sizes on three spits. All this sounds like illustrative features carelessly heaped up. On the contrary, all the odd forms, colours and textures have their compositional value. Nothing could be shifted, taken away or added without some impairment of pictorial unity. Perhaps the picture should be regarded chiefly as a stunt-if so, a stunt magnificently carried off.

Royal Patronage

The coming of the new regent, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, in 1647, was a turning point in Teniers' career. He was promptly appointed chamberlain and court painter. These honours were to have odd sequels. Teniers was to build up an art business as the regent's adviser, was even to paint the regent's gallery with the pictures about. In order to be near his patron, he was to move in 1651 from Antwerp to Brussels, and indulge great extravagance in living, to incur severe criticism from his fellow painters. In particular, having achieved the position of country gentleman, he aspired to a title of nobility; for seven years, from 1649, he bothered the genealogists to find him a qualifying ancestor, and the College of Heralds and even the king to admit his claim.

Meanwhile his patronage grew more distinguished. Besides the regent, Philip IV, William of Orange, and Queen Christina of Sweden, bought his pictures in quantity. He designed for tapestry, conducted picture auctions, began to build a fine town house - in every sense was out for money and spent it rather faster than it came in.

Teniers' late forties and early fifties were a time of embarrassment and distress. In 1655 his wife died, and, though in less than a year and a half he replaced her with another heiress, very soon he was in litigation with his sons about their mother's will. The Guild of St. Luke took legal action against his auctions. His extravagance imperiled the tenure of his beloved Three Towers. Worst of all, the Spanish College of Heralds, which ultimately granted his request, reported that he could become a noble only on condition of ceasing to keep shop and painting for pay.

Meanwhile he worried along. Leopold Wilhelm died, in 1557, but his successor, Don Juan of Austria, continued Teniers' court offices and perquisites. Teniers carried on with his old repertory of subjects, in 1657 made cartoons for numerous items of tapestry art, later made a thrifty use of the little oil copies which he had made of Leopold Wilhelm's pictures by having them replicated and published in a folder of etchings, in 1660, under the sounding title Amphitheatrum Picturarum. It was the first published and illustrated catalogue of a great collection, and it achieved a successful sale through several editions. It still gives valuable information concerning masterpieces which have been lost or changed in form.

In his fifties Teniers gave his first sign of public spirit. At a time when the painter was a specialist and had little need of assistants, the old wholesome practice of apprenticeship was so breaking down that it was hard for a young painter to get the necessary training. Teniers thought to remedy this by founding an academy at Antwerp. To do so involved several years of negotiation with the old Guild of St. Luke, whose good will was indispensable. The academy was opened in 1665. Teniers wisely effaced himself, leaving the instruction with the deans of the guild. The academy was conducted in a liberal and sensible spirit, and flourished for a century or so.

David Teniers still had twenty-five years to live, but he had little new to say, merely varying his old repertory with always skillful repetitions. He had evidently studied with care the solemn antics of the pet monkey who appears in a family picture, and in his later years he made a number of pictures in which monkeys are shown enacting the parts played by men in the early pothouse scenes. To suppose a serious satirical intention in this work would be, I feel, gravely to misunderstand Teniers. I think he merely capitalized an obvious and rather negligible drollery. Technically, some of these pictures, like the Monkey Kitchen, Leningrad, are among his best, irrespective of the monkeys, and simply as beautifully arranged and lighted interiors.

In 1690 David Teniers died at Brussels, nearly eighty years old. His body was taken to Perck and buried in the little parish church within sight of the Three Towers. For a couple of centuries his name was to be synonomous with late Flemish painting of everyday life.


While his character seems to have been vain and self-seeking, nothing of that appears in his art. His pictures of all sorts run into the thousands, and among them it would be hard to find one that is either neglected or pretentious. As an artist his self-knowledge seems perfect, and he never rebelled at his limitations. The revived interest in such far greater painters as Brouwer, Ostade, Terborch and Vermeer has caused an unwarranted reaction against Teniers' previously exaggerated fame. There is much to be said for an artist who is so consistently amusing and skillful. One of the most reliable of Netherlandish Old Masters, he had the positive merit of retaining his interest in the rich and wholesome theme of peasant life for a quarter of a century after it had gone out of fashion. The would-be country gentleman and small nobleman viewed his peasant neighbours without caricature or condescension, painting them precisely as he saw and understood them. Again, the courtier never yielded a whit to that invasion of false French elegance which was rapidly undermining the sturdy native tradition of the Low Countries. In short, few minor painters of his time, or of any time, give more reasonable grounds for praise than David Teniers. A necessary qualifying consideration is that his brush was far more witty than his mind. Works by Teniers can be seen in the best art museums across Europe.

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