Friday, May 22, 2009

The art of David Teniers the Younger

You know those paintings about dogs playing poker? I'm onto something even better. I read about the shameful theft of a sculpture by Henry Moore and ended up browsing the Interpol site for stolen works of art. There I came upon a painting by David Teniers of monkeys playing cards! This bore some looking into, since - despite having a degree in art - I had never heard of this guy. I assumed him to be obscure and unproductive, but on the contrary, he was considered one of the greatest painters in Europe in his day, is ranked with Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), and produced over 900 paintings! David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) was the second of four generations of Flemish painters. He is best known for his paintings of peasant life in the tradition of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569), whose granddaughter he married. But he also had a talent for depicting animals behaving like humans, a well-established theme in fables which parodies the base instincts of humans. His "Monkey Painter" (below) and "Monkey Sculptor" (not pictured), for instance, criticize artists who blindly copy the work of the Masters. But the monkey paintings do more than make a point: they are considered excellent examples of composition, light, and texture. Teniers' paintings can be found in the museums of Madrid, St Petersburg, Vienna, Munich, Dresden, Paris, London, and Brussels, but "The Monkey's Ball" is no longer extant. It was stolen from the Montpellier Museum in France in 1999 by a prodigious art thief whose mother panicked after his arrest and shredded and dumped as many as 60 masterpieces.

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