Nicolaes Pieters Berchem

Nicolaes Pieters Berchem

Dutch painter, graphic artist and engraver.
Date of Birth: 01.10.1620
Country: Netherlands

  1. Biography of Nicolaes Pietersz Berchem
  2. Early Life and Education
  3. Artistic Career and Achievements

Biography of Nicolaes Pietersz Berchem

Early Life and Education

Nicolaes Pietersz Berchem was a Dutch painter, draftsman, and engraver. He was born in Haarlem in the early 1620s, and was nicknamed "van Haarlem" after his birthplace. However, he earned the epithet "Theocritus of painting" due to his talent. Berchem's father, Pieter Claesz, was also a painter who moved to Haarlem from Berchem near Antwerp.

Berchem began his artistic journey at the age of 14. Although his first teacher was his father, who specialized in still life paintings, there are no known still lifes by Berchem. Later, he studied in the workshop of Jan van Goyen and took the name "Berchem." He then furthered his education in Amsterdam under the guidance of Nicolaes Moeyaert, who mainly painted scenes from the Bible and Arcadian landscapes with animals. It is possible that Berchem chose his mentor from Amsterdam due to the death of his mother in 1634 and his father's remarriage a year later. The influence of Moeyaert can be seen in the depiction of animals in Berchem's early work, "Jacob at the Well."

Artistic Career and Achievements

From 1642, Berchem became a member of the Haarlem Guild of Saint Luke, registered as Claes Pietersz. He began to gain recognition by creating engravings that were distributed by publishers and booksellers in Haarlem and Amsterdam. In his series of etchings depicting cows (1644), the influence of Moeyaert is still noticeable. In 1645, the artist joined the Dutch Reformed Church, with Jan Wils as his witness. It is likely that Berchem and Wils were living together during this period.

Traditionally, it is believed that Berchem fully developed as an artist after his trip to Italy in the 1640s, which he undertook with Jan Baptist Weenix. However, some researchers dispute the fact of his journey to the country that inspired his later work. After this trip, Berchem's typical paintings portrayed warm-toned views of Italy, sometimes populated with mythological or biblical figures. These works of art were highly fashionable in the Netherlands. In addition to these, Berchem also painted cityscapes, winter and pastoral scenes in the traditions of Dutch naturalism, as well as allegorical and genre paintings.

Upon his return from Italy in 1646, Berchem married Catharina Claes de Groot, the stepdaughter of Jan Wils. Berchem became completely subservient to his wife, a woman who was described as malicious, obstinate, extremely stingy, and greedy. She would keep him working day and night, selling his artworks as she saw fit. She even pre-sold some paintings. The couple had at least four children: two sons and two daughters. One of their sons, Nicolaes Berchem the Younger, also became a painter.

Berchem gradually gained fame as an artist. In 1647, he was considered as one of the candidates for decorating the royal palace Huis ten Bosch. However, other more renowned artists of the time received the commission. Nevertheless, in the genre of pastoral landscapes, Berchem had few competitors in the Netherlands.

Around 1650, Berchem made a trip to Westphalia with Jacob van Ruisdael. It is presumed that he then returned to Italy, working there from 1651 to 1653. Alongside Jan Both, he became one of the prominent representatives of the Italian style in Dutch landscape painting of the 17th century. Upon his return to Haarlem, the artist purchased a house with a garden in 1656. He became the dean of the guild and was awarded the title of master two years later. At his initiative, the guild established a tradition whereby every artist leaving the city had to provide one of their paintings to decorate the guild's hall. Berchem was the first to set such an example when he moved to Amsterdam in the 1660s, where cartographer Nicolaes Visscher enticed him to work on a new atlas.

Berchem's collaboration with Visscher lasted throughout the first half of the 1660s. He lived in Amsterdam for over ten years before returning to Haarlem in the spring of 1670. However, in 1677, the artist moved back to Amsterdam, where he remained permanently. He continued to paint landscapes, portraits, and depicted fictional characters and animals.