Tag Archives: Flemish art

Jan van Kessel and the Flemish fantastique and grotesque



I hail from Flanders so I’m biased when I say I love Flemish art, and equally biased when I say I love the Flemish fantastique and grotesque.

It’s not every day I find something new and yesterday my eye caught the wonderful Shells, Butterflies, Flowers and Insects on White Background [image] by Jan van Kessel, senior (Antwerp, 1626 – idem, 1679).

Van Kessel senior, born in Antwerp, hometown of Rubens, where I have lived since 1987.

Furthering my research today, I find Festoon, Masks and Rosettes Made of Shells (1656) by that same Jan van Kessel. It is a “decorative and anthropomorphic composition with shells[1].

Not a classic composition as a matter of fact, more a composite of small composites actually, in the vein of those of Arcimboldo, king of composites.

The detail is reminiscent of one of the grotesque masks [image] by Joris Hoefnagel produced a hundred years earlier.

Van Kessel’s work is a species of early intermedia, located in the no man’s land between natural history illustration and fine art.

The poignant potency of ‘The Bitter Potion’

The Bitter Potion  (c. 1635) by Adriaen Brouwer

The Bitter Potion is an oil on wood by Flemish painter Adriaen Brouwer. It depicts a “low-life” young man with a grimacing face holding a bottle of medicine in his hand.

This type of painting is called a tronie.

It is a textbook example of Flemish genre painting and an excellent way to illustrate disgust, perhaps only equalled in poignancy by the noted self-portraits by Oscar Gustave Rejlander, which I’ve posted before.

The Bitter Potion is World Art Classic #300.