SPAENDONCK, Gerard van
(b. 1746, Tilburg, d. 1822, Paris)

Biography

Flemish painter and engraver, brother of Cornelis van Spaendonck. His father was the steward of the seignory of Tilburg, belonging to the Prince of Hesse-Kassel, and the Prince had one of the finest gardens in the area, designed in the latest French style; the garden surely influenced Gerard at a young age. When Gerard went to Paris in 1769, flower painting left its traditional centre in the Low Countries for the first time.

A native of Flanders, Gerard von Spaendonck studied under the decorative painter Guillaume-Jacques Herreyns in Antwerp in the 1760s. In 1769, he left for Paris and, having been appointed miniature painter to the newly crowned Louis XVI in 1774, he became a candidate for membership of the Académie Royale the following year, making his Salon début in 1777. In 1780, he succeeded Madeleine Basseporte as professor of flower painting at the Jardin des Plantes, and the following year he was elected a member of the Académie. It was at this time that he began contributing to the Vélins du Roi, a series of botanical studies painted on vellum and one of the most important collections of botanical watercolours ever made. Spaendonck eventually contributed over fifty works to this venerable collection. He exhibited two of these flower studies on vellum together with five oils at the Salon of 1783, and was highly praised by the critics. At this period he was also active designing for the Sèvres porcelain factory.

In 1788 Gerard was appointed adviser to the Académie, and in 1795 he became a founder-member of the Institut de France. From 1799-1801, the twenty-four plates of his Fleurs Dessinées d'aprés Nature (Flowers Drawn from Life) were published, engravings of supreme quality destined to be a bible for would-be flower painters. In 1804 he received the Légion d'honneur and the next year he was ennobled by Napoleon.

The basis of Gerard van Spaendonck's success, in common with other great flower painters, was a complete, technical mastery of flower painting, in all mediums, in every scale. It is the completeness of his attention to every minute detail, allied to elegance and refinement in composition, that accounts for his success and acclaim. Like Jan van Huysum, Spaendonck perfectly understood how to adapt flower painting to the tastes of his day. His work combines the traditional Dutch mastery of flower depiction with French sophistication and good taste. The luminosity of stipple engraving, a technique that Spaendonck imparted to his pupil Pierre-Joseph Redouté,