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FERDINAND VAN KESSEL

1648 Antwerp – Breda 1696

Ferdinand was the son of Jan van Kessel and trained in his father’s studio. He went to Amsterdam in 1680 and then went to work for the Governor General of Breda in 1688. The King of Poland, John III Sobieski, who made him his official painter in 1694, commissioned many allegorical paintings from him. However, his delicate state of health meant that he was unable to attend the court in Warsaw.

He carried on his father’s work, also devoting himself to painting flowers, animals and battle scenes, favouring small formats and using a technique similar to that of Jan ‘Velvet’ Brueghel. Unfortunately, very little remains of his abundant production other than several genre scenes where cats and monkeys are occupied in human activities and are dressed in human apparel. Following the tradition of an exoticism that had already been introduced by his father, this particular genre was an attractive novelty for Antwerp’s collectors. With mischievous humour, he transposes the activities particular to the human world into the animal kingdom, while maintaining the scene’s realism. His sense of observation, combined with rigorous detail always rendered with extreme precision, is revealed both in the decors and in the strange characters present in his satirical compositions. He shows a great technical skill that is particularly evident in the rendering of the animals’ silky fur. The colour range is unique in its variety of intensely warm browns, highlighted here and there with touches of red and white.