She was born in The Hague to Frederik Ruysch and Maria Post, but moved to Amsterdam when she was three and her father became a professor there. He became a famous anatomist and botanist, and his family received visitors to view his huge collection of rarities in the curiosity cabinet in his house. Along with her brothers and sisters, Rachel assisted her father decorating the prepared specimens in a liquor balsamicum with flowers and lace. Her father made a catalogue of his work and illustrated it himself, taking advantage of his wife's network of painter friends, as she was the daughter of Pieter Post and was well connected to the royal family in the Hague. Some of this illustrious art society must have inspired young Rachel, who began to paint the flowers and insects of her father's collection in the popular manner of Otto Marseus van Schrieck. She knew him and his disciples from his work for the Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam, where her father did business and in 1685 became a professor in botany there. Rachel would also have known the flower painters Jan and Maria Moninckx, Alida Withoos and Johanna Helena Herolt-Graff who all worked for the hortus owner Agnes Block and who like her father also worked with the plant collectors Jan and Caspar Commelin.
After Marseus van Schrieck died, in 1679 at fifteen Ruysch was apprenticed to his pupil Willem van Aelst, a prominent flower painter whose studio in Amsterdam looked out over the studio of the flower painter Maria van Oosterwijck. In 1693, she married the Amsterdam portrait painter Juriaen Pool, with whom she had ten children. Her sister Pieternel married the painter Jan Moninckx and her sister Anna married a dealer in paints. The Ruysch family was extremely pious.
In 1699 Rachel was offered membership in the Confrerie Pictura in The Hague as their first female member. It was an unusual honor and shows how, despite motherhood, her continued painting was appreciated. Several years later Ruysch was invited to work for the court in Düsseldorf and serve as court painter to Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine. She obtained a contract for works painted at home that she periodically brought to Düsseldorf. She remained working for him and his wife from 1708 until the prince's death in 1716. Her husband had been contracted to make a portrait of his wife for the Elector, but his unexpected death occurred before the package could be sent.
Ruysch lived eighty-five years and her dated works establish that she painted from the age of 15 until she was an octogenarian. The traveller Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach visited her father's cabinet in 1710 and was received by her in her studio. She could only show him the works she was painting, as everything she made was sold abroad. Today about a hundred paintings by her are known.
The background of her paintings are usually dark which was the fashion for flower painting in the second half of the 17th century, led by Marseus van Schrieck. According to Houbraken when Abraham Mignon died in 1679, his flower paintings became so popular that prices for them would have continued to increase beyond measure had it not been for the flower painters Rachel Ruysch and Jan van Huysum, whose works were closer to nature. She was 54 and at the peak of her fame as he was writing. Ruysch continued to paint into her eighties, and when Jan van Huysum came to her studio to show one of his works with a lighter background, she liked it so much that she began making paintings with a lighter background herself. Johan van Gool included her with an engraved portrait in his list of painter biographies in 1750. He paid her a visit to interview her and was so astonished at the quality she was still able to achieve in her old age, that he included several poems in his biography of her by leading Amsterdam poets to prove that he was not the only one so deeply impressed.
- Alida Withoos and the Moninckx-atlases of the Amsterdam Hortus
- Rachel Ruysch in historici.nl
- (Dutch) Juffr. R. Ruisch & J. van Huisum in De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen (1718) by Arnold Houbraken, courtesy of the Digital library for Dutch literature
- Rachel Ruisch in Johan van Gool's Nieuwe Schouburg (with painter index), 1750, in the Institute of Dutch History
- Rachel Ruysch in the RKD
- Paintings by Rachel Ruysch at the BBC Your Paintings site
- National Museum for Women in the Arts: Paintings by Rachel Ruysch
- Old Masters: Overlooked Women Artists
- Rachel Ruysch, Amsterdam's Pallas and Minerva of the Amsterdam IJ
- Works and literature on Rachel Ruysch at PubHist
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