Paulus Potter was a celebrated Dutch painter of seventeenth century. Trained by his father from a young age, he quickly developed a style of his own and became famous for his works on animals. In fact, animals appear in all his works, sometimes singly, but mostly in groups within a rustic landscape. In fact, he was the first established painter, in whose works animals were depicted as the main subject while human figures and landscapes were relegated to secondary position. Although he started his painting career in Amsterdam under the guidance of his father, his best paintings were created in Delft. Later he shifted to Hague and received royal patronage for a short period before moving back to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, he died at an early age of 28 from tuberculosis. In spite of that, he left more than 100 documented works. Among these works, ‘The Young Bull’ is said to be the most celebrated though not the finest. Instead, critics find his ‘Orpheus Charming the Beasts’ to be aesthetically more fulfilling. Although he did not have any recorded student his works have influenced many later artists.
Childhood & Early Years
Paulus Potter was born in November 1625 in the city of Enkhuizen in the North Holland province of Netherlands. Although the exact date of his birth is not known, old records shows that he was baptized on November 20 of the same year.
According to Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD), his father, Pieter Symonsz Potter, was the city secretary of Enkhuizen and was also a renowned painter. He specialized in genre and farm landscapes. His mother, Aaltje Paulusdr Bartsius, was the sister of another well- known artist, Willem Bartsius.
Apart from Paulus, the couple had two more children, Pieter II and Maria. Paulus was born second. Initially, the family lived in Enkhuizen. Later in 1628, they moved to Leiden and finally settled in Amsterdam in 1631.
In Amsterdam, they lived in Sint Antoniesbreestraat, a fashionable street, which housed the residences of many well-known artists. Among them was Pieter Codde, whose wife moved into their home once Paulus’ mother died.
Paulus Potter began his painting lessons under his father’s guidance while living in Amsterdam. From the beginning, he followed his father’s footsteps and began to draw farm scenes as well as extensive landscapes with animals in it. Very soon he grew a style of his own.
Some researchers also claim that Paulus also studied under Amsterdam painter Claes Moeyaert. It is to be noted that both Moeyaert and senior Potter had the same style.
It has also been found that in 1642, one ‘P. Potter’ was registered as a student of Jacob de Wet, an artist from Haarlem. Therefore, it seems, along with studying under his father, Paulus also received training under other teachers and was familiar with artistic environment of the city.
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It is possible that Paulus Potter started his career as a painter in early 1640s in the city of Amsterdam. By 1646, he moved to Delft, a city in the province of Southern Holland and lived there till 1649.
At Delft, Potter continued with his painting work and in 1646, entered the Guild of St. Luke. It was a city guild for painters and other artists named after the patron saint of artists, St Luke.
1647 was a significant year for Potter. Many of his finest paintings bear this date and it is generally accepted that Paulus Potter reached his peak during this period.
In 1649, Paulus Potter left Delft and settled in Hague. Here, he initially lived in the house of Jan Van Goyen, a very well-known artist of that era. He also met architect Claes van Balkeneynde, who was also a leading building contractor in the city, and married his daughter.
After the wedding, his father-in-law introduced Potter to the Dutch elite, who were impressed by his talent. Amalia of Solms-Braunfels, regent of Orange-Nassau, was one of them.
Sometime now, Potter created a painting with a pissing cow for Amalia of Solms-Braunfels. However, the painting offended the court ladies. It is also believed that Potter did not fulfill all his obligations. In 1651, he was sued by the Royal Court for such failure.
Sometime in 1652, Potter was invited to settle in Amsterdam by the city Mayor Nicolaes Tulp. Accordingly, he went back to Amsterdam by May 1652. Here too he was patronized by many art lovers.
In 1653, he was commissioned to paint a portrait of Nicholas’ son Diederik Tulp. The painting showed Diederik riding a horse. However, it is said that it was actually an old painting, which potter could not sell. He just changed the face of the rider and passed it as Diederik’s portrait.
’The Young Bull’, painted in 1647, is said to be one of the best works of Paulus Potter. This life size painting created on canvas by oil offers detailed realism and is said to be one of the three best paintings of Netherlands. At the time of painting, Potter was only 22 years old.
‘Orpheus Charming the Beasts’ painted in 1650, is another of his major works. Critics have described this painting as his ‘excursion into the poetic world’. It shows Orpheus playing his lute surrounded by a horde of mesmerized animals.
’Figures with Horses by a Stable’ (1647), ‘Two Horses in a Meadow near a Gate’ (1649), ‘Two Pigs in a Sty’ (1649), ‘Wolf-Hound’ (1650–1652), ‘ Cattle in a Meadow’ (1652), and ‘A Spaniel’ (1653) are few other major works by Paulus Potter. Though smaller in size, these paintings have also been appreciated by art lovers of all ages.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1650, Potter married Adriana, the daughter of Hague architect Balkeneynde. At the time of their marriage he was around 25 years old. He did not live long after the marriage
Towards the end of his life Paulus Potter developed tuberculosis. He died from the disease on January 17, 1654 at the age of 28 in the city of Amsterdam. In this short span, he produced more than 100 known pieces of work.