From the Museum website, 22 February 2013
The exhibition The Colours of Night. The Painter Petrus van Schendel (1806-1870), which is organised in collaboration with Breda’s Museum, is the first retrospective of the painter Petrus van Schendel, one of the most important artists of the Dutch Romantic School. It comprises more than 60 paintings, drawings, sketches and silhouettes as well as historic objects from public and private collections.
Van Schendel was born into a family of merchant farmers in the village of Terheyden, near Breda. His drawing skills became apparent when he was still a child. In 1822 he left for Antwerp, where he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1828, having completed his studies, he exhibited a self-portrait inspired by the chiaroscuro of the Old Masters, in which his exceptional talent for nocturnal scenes lit by lamps or candles was first revealed.
Later he enhanced his repertoire with other sources of artificial and natural light such as oil lamps, open fires, gas burners, fireworks, electricity and moonlight. In the course of his career he specialised in compositions with varying light effects. Around 1830 van Schendel, who was by then living in Amsterdam, produced his first painting of a market scene bathed in candlelight – a romanticised image which had no equivalent in reality, but earned the artist a tremendous reputation in the Netherlands and abroad. Struggling to earn a living, however, he left Amsterdam with his wife in 1832 and settled in Rotterdam, where he was offered a position as a drawing teacher. There he produced mainly commissioned works, but also a wide array of paintings demonstrating his mastery in recreating the effects of artificial light. In 1838, after his first exhibitions abroad, he settled in The Hague, where he hoped to attract a new clientele.
This exhibition also explores another aspect of the artist’s personality: his talent as an inventor. Van Schendel was indeed awarded several patents for innovations in maritime navigation, railway technology, agriculture, drawing and even aviation, which were presented at several world fairs from 1851 onwards, but failed to be implemented.
During his years in The Hague, van Schendel successfully established himself on foreign art markets and sold several paintings to various European royal collections. In the 1840s he was awarded several medals in exhibitions and salons abroad, including Paris, Brussels and Manchester. In 1845 he left The Hague and settled in Brussels. His studio in Schaerbeek received many visitors, among which collectors, members of the royal family and important art dealers. His large-scale masterpiece, The Birth of Christ from 1858, attracted countless enthusiasts to his studio and was later successfully exhibited in England.
After van Schendel’s death in 1870, his works fell into oblivion as new artistic tendencies emerged. Today, however, they are highly valued, as Romantic art is attracting growing interest by experts and the wider public alike.