He was born into a family of artists. He was the son of the engraver Jan Boel and the brother of engraver Quirin Boel II. His teachers were his father and Jan Fijt, a well-known landscape and animal painter. He was registered in the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke as a wijnmeester (master of wine) (a title reserved for the children of members of the guild ) in 1650-51 . He probably traveled to Italy in the 1640s or in 1651. His trip brought him to Genoa and Rome. In Genoa he stayed with his uncle, the painter and art dealer Cornelis de Wael who had established himself in that city.
After 1668 he moved to Paris. Here he worked for Charles Le Brun in his first tapestry workshop. He was appointed paintre ordinaire by King Louis XIV in 1674, but died in September of that year.
He painted still lifes (including flower still lifes, hunting still lifes, animal and fish still lifes, vanitas paintings and still lifes of weapons) and landscapes. Since most of his works are undated, it is difficult to establish a chronology for his work. He follows to a large extent the style of his teacher Jan Fijt.
Pieter Boel is said to have revolutionized animal painting. Whereas artists had contented themselves before with making static studies from stuffed animals, Boel drew and painted his animals from life in the menagerie at Versailles. He thus represented animals in their natural poses. His naturalism influenced a long line of great animal artists, from the painter Jean-Baptiste Oudry to the sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye.
His animal studies were used as models for the animals in the foreground of a large tapestry, referred to as 'The Months' or 'The Royal Houses'. The French painter François Desportes copied several of his paintings and as a result, it was believed that the original drawings were by Desportes. It is only after it was confirmed that the originals had been made by Boel that Boel's reputation as an animal painter was re-established.
- (Dutch) Peter Boel biography in De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen (1718) by Arnold Houbraken, courtesy of the Digital library for Dutch literature
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