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Wildens was born in Antwerp in 1586 and at the age of ten was
apprenticed to Pieter Verhulst (d 1628), none of whose work has
survived. In 1604 he was admitted into the Antwerp Guild of St Luke as a
master. The few works from the period before Wildens left Antwerp for
Italy in 1613 are clearly influenced by Jan Breughel II, Adriaen van
Stalbemt, Josse de Momper and Gillis van Coninxloo, for example the Mountainous Landscape with a Village and a Pond (sold London, Sotheby’s, 8 May 1946, lot 81) is similar in composition to de Momper’s Mountainous Landscape with a Bay (Detroit, Art Institute of Michigan) while Wildens’s River Landscape with a Castle and Farmhouse in the Foreground (Private Collection) shows clear links with van Stalbemt’s Landscape with a Farmhouse (Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum) and his Castle by a Pond (Berlin, Bodemuseum).
Once in Italy, Wildens’ style underwent a change, precipitated
particularly by the work of Paul Bril (1554-1626). This is evident in
Wildens’ The Seasons (c. 1615–16; Genoa, Palazzo Bianco), a series of
paintings corresponding to the prints published by Hondius, Matham and
Stock. January and April retain the schematic rigidity of the prints, whereas August and September (Autumnal Hunt)
have a surprising degree of realism and spontaneity of detail.
Presumably he was back in Antwerp by August 1616. In a letter to John
Gage dated 14 March 1617, Dudley Carleton laments that on Gage’s visit
to Antwerp the previous September he could not introduce him to an
exceptional landscape painter who had previously been living in Italy;
this almost certainly refers to Wildens.
1616 and 1620 much of Wildens’ work was for Rubens, though he was never
formally employed by him. Wildens produced the landscape backgrounds
for various scenes in the designs for the Decius Mus tapestry series and for other history paintings, including the Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus (c. 1618; Munich, Alte Pinotek.), Samson and the Lion (c. 1618; Private Collection), Cimon and Iphigenia (c. 1617–18; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) and Diana and her Nymphs Departing for the Chase
(c. 1616; Cleveland Museum of Art). In 1619 Rubens acted as a witness
to Wildens’s marriage to Maria Stappaert. She died in 1624 after
producing two sons, who both became painters: Jan Baptist Wildens
(1620–37) and Jeremias Wildens (1621–53). Maria’s niece Hélène Fourment
became Rubens’s second wife. In 1624 Wildens opened a picture
gallery—which was later successfully run by Jeremias, by whose death it
boasted 700 paintings—and produced the outstanding Winter Landscape with Hunter
(Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister).
His works from these years
employ decorative forms, loose compositions and a broad technique
reminiscent of Rubens, though the earlier influences of Breughel, van
Stalbemt and Bril still continue to play a significant role. Wildens
never adopted the tempestuous element of Rubens’s style, preferring a
calm and gentle approach expressed in marked symmetry of composition and
soft, subtle colours. The contrast is evident in Wildens’s serene Landscape with a Shepherd (Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten), which was partly inspired by Rubens’s more dynamic Landscape with a Shepherd and his Flock (London, National Gallery).
After Rubens’s death in 1640, Wildens (who was one of his executors) concentrated on producing landscapes, such as the Wooded Landscape with Diana and her Nymphs
(Brunswick, Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum), that use the same vibrant
light found in Rubens’s late landscapes or the same sketchy character.
Wildens also painted landscape backgrounds for Jacob Jordaens, Frans
Snyders, Paul de Vos, Abraham Janssen, Jan Boeckhorst, Gerard Segers,
Cornelis Schut and Theodoor Rombouts. His pupils were Abraham and Philip
Lees and Hans Rymaker.
Wildens is represented in the following collections: Hermitage
Museum, St Petersburg; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; Museum of Fine
Arts, Boston; Courtauld Insitute, London; Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister,
Dresden; Prado, Madrid; Palazzo Bianco, Genoa; Herzog Anton Ulrich
Museum, Brunswick; Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp; Art
Institute of Michigan, Detroit, amongst others.
Sphinx Fine Art,
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