The nighttime maestro – Petrus van Schendel

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Selling vegetables at the night market by Petrus van Schendel

Van Schendel was a son of the small merchant farmers. He was born in the village of Terheyden in 1806. In 1822, he joined the Royal Academy of Arts in Antwerp. After six years of studies, Van Schendel found himself in Romanticism. Like many painters, he traveled around a lot, working in different cities and taking commissions. Van Schendel painted a lot of portraits in his studio, as well as the different landscapes to keep up the income for his family that was growing year by year. The painter had 15 children to feed.

The fame and legacy of Van Schendel were born in his unique paintings, depicting nighttime scenes, where the characters and landscapes were lit by the light of lamps and candles. Some of the paintings depicted scenes from the seaside, some from the local markets. He also portrayed the people at their homes, reading the books under the candlelight’s or oil lamps. The source of inspiration for Van Schendel was the 17th-century Dutch artists. More specifically, Gerrit Dou and Godfried Schalcken, who were known for the fine detail and charming effect of candlelight’s. Van Schendel’s nighttime paintings stood out amongst his contemporaries for the detail, calming atmosphere, and masterful depiction of light.

Before van Schendel, nobody gave that much attention in their paintings to the various sources of light, such as candles, oil lamps, fireworks, electricity, and moonlight. With constantly concentrating on these sources of light, the painter shaped his style and his Romantic artworks began to earn praises.

One of the interesting features of Van Schendel’s works was adding the various objects from different locations in one scene. The standards of landscape paintings usually demanded that the painter had to depict everything according to reality. It was kind of a pleasing lie that did not affect the overall picture negatively. On the contrary, it made these nighttime scenes more appealing and eye-catching.

In 1845, the painter moved from Hague and settled in Brussels. After his works were exhibited in many cities around Netherlands and Belgium for several years, Van Schendel eventually earned great recognition and fame. His genre scenes that depicted the markets and interiors in the night, turned out to be a success. Because of that, demand for his paintings was rising not only on the local market but also abroad. This allowed the talented painter to secure himself financially. He got generous commissions from the art collectors from France and England. Even the Belgian King Leopold the first added one of Schendel’s works to his private collection.

Despite the success, there still were some art critics, who did not share the same excitement as the general audience. After the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris, the local art critics voiced their opinions. They believed Van Schendel’s paintings were not as good as the ones his predecessors, Dou and Schalcken created. Nevertheless, their criticism did not affect the commercial side of Van Schendel’s work and he remained favorable in the eyes of the general audience, and art collectors.

But besides the art, Van Schendel was also interested in engineering and working on various inventions. During his lifetime, he was awarded several patents for innovations in such sectors, as maritime navigation, railway technology, and agriculture.

However, his legacy is still strongly tied with the painting craft. Van Schendel dedicated himself to developing the eye-catching style that helped him to become one of the most popular romantic painters of his time. Despite some criticism, it is hard to argue that Van Schendel’s works are very detailed, and his depiction of light makes those paintings stand out in the exhibitions.

After he died in 1870, the landscape of European arts was slowly changing towards new styles and artists. Romanticism was not that attractive for the general audience anymore. Impressionism was now on the rise. Nevertheless, in later periods, Van Schendel’s works saw their value growing and attracted the attention of art collectors. Nowadays, his works can be seen in museums, such as the Rijks Museum Amsterdam, as well as in the museums in Munich, Leipzig, Rotterdam, and other European cities. The Nighttime Maestro left his mark in the 19th-century artistic scenery.


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