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Hercules Seghers
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The Hague
“Hercules Seghers was the most inspired and original landscapist working in Holland during the first decades of the [seventeenth] century,” according to scholar Seymour Slive. Seghers was also an innovative etcher whose “graphic work … is remarkable for its imaginataive quality, innovative techniques, originality of motifs, and power of treatment and design.” Seghers’ paintings were eagerly collected after his death, and his prints were bought by a few discerning collectors. Details of Seghers’ life are scarce. A baptismal record has not been found. He was probably born in Haarlem, the son of Cathalyna Hercules and Pieter Seghers; his Menonite father probably fled Flanders due to religious persecution. Seghers’ birth date of 1589 or 1590 is based on his December 27, 1614 marriage banns, which describe him as 24 years old. The family moved to Amsterdam sometime in the mid-1590s. Seghers was probably the student of the noted landscape painter Gillis van Coninxloo (1544-1607), another Flemish immigrant. When van Coninxloo died in early 1607, his estate recorded a debt from one Pieter Seghers, probably tuition for a half a year’s instruction for Hercules. At Coninxloo’s estate sale young Hercules bought drawings and a painting. A Pieter Seghers was buried in Amsterdam in early 1612; this was probably Seghers’ father. Hercules Pietersz., as Seghers was then known, joined the artists’ Guild of St. Luke in Haarlem in 1612. By 1614 he was back in Amsterdam, where a debt of his was recorded. Later that year he became engaged to Anneken van der Brugghen, a native of Antwerp then living in Amsterdam, but before the wedding banns were posted he agreed to pay a settlement to one Marritge Reyers, the mother of his illegitimate daughter, for whom he agreed to take responsibility. Married in Janary 1615, Seghers and Anneken had no children, but treated his daughter as their own. It appears that Anneken also brought property to the marriage; in 1619 they bought an expensive home in Amsterdam, newly built in 1616. After 1625 Seghers’ financial affairs suffered, and documents record various debts. He sold the house in January 1631. A document from May 1631 regarding the sale of paintings by him lists him as living in Utrecht. By 1633 he was living in The Hague, still dealing in art. The last document apparently regarding him is from 1638, in which one Cornelia de Wite is described as the widow of Hercules Pietersz., as Seghers had been formerly known, leading to the inference that his first wife had died, he later remarried and then died himself. Scholars believe that many of Seghers’ paintings have been lost; only about a dozen survive and none of these have been dated. As noted above, his works were in great demand. One Amsterdam dealer was said to possess twenty-one of his paintings; in 1656 Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) owned eight. Prints from 54 of Segher’s etchings survive, but the total number of impressions is only about 183, with perhaps twenty-two of the prints existing in only one impression. Most are landscapes, although he created a few religious and maritime scenes and two still-lifes. The Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam, holds 75 of the impressions, 48 of which are from one collection, which may have been purchased directly from Seghers. Seghers created what today are called monoprints. Frequently using colored inks, Seghers printed the etchings on linen as well as paper, and frequently colored the support material as he experimented. He often colored the print by retouching it after printing, sometimes painting over the printed line with wash or watercolor. He cropped impressions of the same print to achieve a new artistic effect. Unlike today’s colored prints made with several plates, Seghers used only one plate and varied the results by varying the inks, paper color, and overpainting after printing. As a result, his prints have been described as “painted prints” and “printed paintings.” (TNB 2/2013). Selected bibliography: Rowlands, John. Hercules Segers. New York: G. Braziller, 1979. Haverkamp-Begemann, Egbert, et al. Hercules Segers, the complete etchings. The Hague: Martin Nijhoffs; Amsterdam: Scheltema & Holkema, 1973. Slive, Seymour. Dutch Painting 1600-1800. Pp. 183-186. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.