Berchem, Nicolas

, an eminent artist, was born at Haerlem, in 1624, and was taught the first principles of | painting by his father, Peter Van Haerlem, an artist of very mean abilities, whose subjects were fish, confectionary, vases of silver, and other objects of still life; but he afterwards had the good fortune to have some of the best masters of that time for his instructors, and successively was the disciple of Grebber, Vangoyen, Mojaart, Jan Wils, and Weeninx. He had an easy expeditious manner of painting, and an inexpressible variety and beauty in the choice of sites for his landscapes, executing them with a surprising degree of neatness and truth. He possessed a clearness and strength of judgment, and a wonderful power and ease in expressing his ideas; and although his subjects were of the lower kind, yet his choice of nature was judicious, and he gave to every subject as much of beauty and elegance as it would admit. The leafing of his trees is exquisitely and freely touched; his skies are clear; and his clouds float lightly, as if supported by air. The distinguishing characters of the pictures of Berchem, are the breadth and j ust distribution of the lights the grandeur of his masses of light and shadow; the natural ease and simplicity in the attitudes of his figures, expressing their several characters; the just degradation of his distances; the brilliancy and harmony, as well as the transparency, of his colouring; the correctness and true perspective of his design; and the elegance of his composition: and, where any of those marks are wanting, no authority ought to be sufficient to ascribe any picture to him. He painted every part of his subjects so extremely well, as to render it difficult to determine in which he excelled most; his trees, buildings, waters, rocks, hills, cattle, and figures, being all equally admirable.

One of the most capital pictures of this master was painted for the principal magistrate of Dort, in whose family it is still preserved being a prospect of a mountainous country, enriched with a great variety of sheep, oxen, goats, and figures, excellently penciled, and most beautifully coloured. While he was employed in painting that picture, the same burgomaster bespoke also a landscape from John Both, and agreed to pay eight hundred guilders for each picture; but to excite an emulation, he promised a considerable premium for the performance which should be adjudged the best. When the pictures were finished, and placed near each other for a critical examination, there appeared such an equality of merit in | each, that he generously presented both artists with an equal sum above the price which he had stipulated. Berchem was singularly curious, in purchasing the finest prints and designs of the Italian masters, as a means of improving his own taste and after his death, that collection of drawings and prints sold for a very large sum. There was such a demand for his works, that he was generally paid beforehand; and although he was so indefatigable, that very often he would not move from his easel, in the summer months, from four in the morning till day-light failed, (by which close application, he finished a great number of pictures,) yet, at this day, they are rarely to be purchased, and always are sold at an extraordinary high price.

It is recorded of him, that his wife, the daughter of Jan "Wils, one of his masters, through her avarice, allowed him no rest, and industrious as he was, she usually placed herself under his painting-room, and when she heard him. neither sing nor stir, she struck upon the ceiling to rouse him. She insisted upon having all the money he earned by his labour, so that he was obliged to borrow from his scholars when he wanted money to buy prints, of which, as already noticed, he contrived to form an excellent collection. He passed part of his life in the castle of Bentheim, the situation of which furnished him with the views and animals which compose his pictures, but he died at Harlaem, in 1683. There are many prints engraven by, and after him the former amounting to forty-eight, and the latter to one hundred and thirty three. 1


Pilkington and —Strutt. Lives of Painters omitted by De Piles, 8vo. p. 94,