Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Sijctghen (1627-1650)

Sijctghen (*1627- † 23/10-1650)
(portrait 1647)

From Paulus Potters’ etchings of cows (before posting) to his colleague Albert Cuyp (1620-1722) isn’t a big leap. They were contemporaries, both renowned Dutch landscape and animal painters. Both famous in their lifetime. Doing my best giving at least the impression of a logic and coherent build-up of my Blogging endeavours, here goes.
 Cows etchings and drawings by Albert Cuyp. Compared with similar works by contemporaries like Paulus Potter, Karel Dujardin and Nicolaes Berchem they appear very "modern". 

You’ll find his sketches and prints used and worked into his and others' paintings: National Museum stuff. His Dutch landscape paintings are as famous as the 17th century Dutch landscape are itself.  Carefully arranged cows and other cattle. Bucolic and panoramic river views of cities and arcadisch landscapes stretching endlessly beneath famous and dramatic “Dutch skies”. The Golden Age of Landscape painting.

But the portrait of Sijctghen the Duck is an altogether other story. Its owner probably commissioned the painting for her 20th birthday. Which was already pretty remarkably old for a duck, even a tame one.  He was no doubt one rich and proud farmer. Click here to find a 1Mb picture of the painting. Sijctghen was a production duck. Laying 100 eggs each year in her long life, as she proudly claimes. Her biography is told, by her self, in the form of a poem painted left in the painting in a beautiful handwrighting. She is telling us about her virtuous and productive life, that she never mated, lived her life in chastity, virtue and servitude. The life of a nun. A sanctimonious message ordered by her owner perhaps, the commissoner, her jailer? Had she only be free. Have you ever seen free ducks "at it" in spring ?
She tells us also she survived and healed from broken legs. Probably describing “the treatment” undergone in her youth preventing her ever to fly (away). The fact she never mated is maybe giving another clue because these production ducks were kept in the pen and no sooner they've laid their eggs in the morning they were fed and freed keeping them more or less farm bound. All over Europe, ownership tagged in the bill or flippers. Eggs were sold to bakers, sometimes even as far away as London. These ducks often wandered about and are known to have mated with wild ducks. Today their tame genes are spread in every begging bread-fed duck in the park all over Europe.
No males around meaning she maybe was kept in a closed aviary just with other nuns. Sijctghen asks the poem to be finished after her death. It was. She came into this world the year the population of nearby city of Delft was decimated by the Plaque and she met her maker on the 27th day of October 1650, aged 23. Using chickens for mass egg production came into fashion centuries later after the discovery of the causes of salmonella and paratyphoid spreading.

This sentimental and moving portrait is all the more remarkable if you see what Cuyp was otherwise world famous for. Like this View on Dordrecht, his native city. Abraham van Calreat (1642-1722), probably a pupil of Cuyp, and the 17th century specialist in painting horses, whom’s paintings sometimes were mistaken for Cuyp’s because he used the monogram A.C., is winking at us even after 400 years. He was born and lived in the same city of Dordrecht. He shows Syctghen, the subject of his teachers unique painting, in this horse painting. Maybe it was commissioned by the same no doubt wealthy owner.
But now the good news. Sijctghen is alive! I’ve found her, her family, her genes and even her reincarnation.
Believe it or not she's reappeared and German painter Alexander Koester (1865-1932) is my witness. All he ever did was painting ducks. And more ducks. Probably the same flock of ducks over and over again. He became so good at it he earned a gold medal in America. In St. Louis' World Fair of 1904..... and was nicknamed “Enten Koester” (Duck Koestner). He’s truly the Renoir of duck painting. In the end all he needed was a few brush strokes of paint to create a life duck. A true impressionist magician. And I have one, a genuine Duck Koester. Syctghen probably afterall did lose her virginity. Somewhere between 1647 and 1650 because here, her likeness, her great-great-great-granddaughter is swimming, lower right.  
Found in a recent car boot I ofcourse realize it’s not an oil painting, it’s a very nice 1930’s quality reproduction. But who cares, try finding one. To know what you must be looking for I'll intend showing  you some serious duck painting by Duck Koester in next posting. 


  1. Oh, I love it - the Renoir of duck painting...

  2. Hi Neil, I'm glad you've enjoyed.