David Teniers the Younger was not only one of the most prolific Flemish artists but also one of the most versatile. Although best known for his representations of peasant life, he painted subjects that range from alchemists and witches to allegorical and biblical themes. Moreover, Teniers painted views of collectors' cabinets, many of which include portraits, and also made small-scale copies of Italian paintings.
Teniers was baptized in Antwerp in 1610. He apparently studied with his father, David Teniers the Elder (1582-1649), who specialized in small-scale history paintings. Early in his career he collaborated with his father in creating a series of twelve panels illustrating Torquato Tasso's great epic, Gerusalemme Liberata (Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado). Upon entering the Antwerp Saint Luke's Guild in 1632/1633, he began to specialize in low-life genre scenes in a style derived from the work of Adriaen Brouwer, who had moved to Antwerp from Haarlem in the early 1630s.
Records in Antwerp indicate that a David Teniers received a passport for a visit to Paris in 1635. A more certain reference to the young artist's travels in that year is a contract he signed with the art dealer Chrisostome van Immerseel on 29 December 1635 in Dover, England. In 1636 Sir Peter Paul Rubens called upon Teniers, as well as a number of other artists, to assist in a commission to decorate the Torre de la Parada, a hunting lodge near Madrid belonging to King Philip IV of Spain. Unfortunately, the painting Teniers made from Rubens' modello is now lost. The artist's association with Rubens was personal as well as professional: Rubens had been guardian of Anna Brueghel, whom Teniers married in 1637, and was a witness to their marriage contract. In July 1638, when David Teniers III, the first of the couple's seven children, was baptized, the child's godmother was Rubens' second wife, Hélène Fourment.
Teniers painted for both domestic and foreign markets. In 1637 and 1638 the dealer Van Immerseel, then operating his business from Seville, commissioned twenty-six paintings from the artist, which must have been sent to Spain. Teniers also worked as a dealer; in 1640 and 1641 passports were issued to the "painter and art dealer David Teniers." During the 1640s he collaborated frequently with other painters, among them Lucas van Uden (1595-1672/1673), Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-1683/1684), Jacques d'Arthois (1613-1686), and Jan van Kessel.
In 1645 and 1646 Teniers was dean of the Antwerp artists' guild. He was also an active member of the rhetoricians' chamber De Violieren. Among the important patrons for whom he worked during the 1640s was Antoon Triest, bishop of Ghent, who may have introduced him to Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, governor of the southern Netherlands. Teniers apparently entered the archduke's service at his Brussels court by December 1647, although he continued to live in Antwerp until at least November 1649.
In the early 1650s Teniers succeeded Jan van den Hoeck (1611-1651) as official court painter. Among his more important pictures of this period are representations of the Painting Gallery of the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, in which Teniers often depicted himself alongside the archduke. One of his major undertakings as court painter was the production of the Theatrum Pictorum, a monumental catalogue of the Italian paintings in Leopold Wilhelm's collection. This work, published by Teniers' brother Abraham in 1658, contained 229 engraved reproductions (244 in the expanded second edition of 1660) of the small painted copies that Teniers had made from the original works. During these years the artist also worked for other European rulers, including William of Orange, stadtholder of the United Netherlands, Queen Christina of Sweden, and the exiled King Charles II of England.
In 1656, several months after the death of his wife, Teniers, who had become very wealthy, bought a house on the Rue Terarken in Brussels. On 21 October of that year he married Isabelle de Fren, daughter of the secretary of the Council of Brabant. In August 1658 the artist was elevated to the rank of ayuda de cámara (chamberlain) under Don Juan of Austria, who had by then replaced Leopold Wilhelm in Brussels. With the end of the reign of Don Juan of Austria in January 1659, Teniers seems to have retired from court life. In 1662 he bought a country house called Dry Toren (Three Towers) near Vilvoorde. During this period he devoted much of his time and energy to establishing an academy of painting in Antwerp, which opened in 1665.
Teniers died on 25 April 1690 at the age of seventy-nine. Despite the fame and popularity he enjoyed during his lifetime, he was not an active teacher. There are only three recorded students--Mattheus Milese (apprenticed 1640-1641), Gilles van Bolder (1643-1644), and Jan de Froey (1647-1648)--all of whom are totally unknown as artists. Teniers' most notable followers were David Ryckaert III (1612-1661) and Gillis van Tilborgh the Younger, while his imitators included his son and several of his brothers. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]