Stephen Ongpin Fine Art
Herman Henstenburgh (or Henstenburg) was a pupil of the natural history draughtsman Johannes Bronckhorst, whose studio in Hoorn he entered in 1683, and who also trained the young artist in his other vocation as a pastry baker. Indeed, throughout his life Henstenburgh seems to have worked as a baker in Hoorn, a relative artistic backwater, and his watercolours, despite being greatly admired, remained something of a hobby. The influence of Bronckhorst, as well as of Pieter Holsteyn the Younger, was to be important for Henstenburgh, particularly on his choice of subjects. As a draughtsman, he specialized in depictions of birds, insects, flowers and fruit, usually drawn on vellum. The contemporary biographer Johan van Gool noted that Henstenburgh’s earliest works were of birds and insects, and that it was not until around 1689 that he also began to produce finished watercolour drawings of fruit and flowers. Van Gool further commented that the artist was able to achieve a particular richness and intensity of colour in his drawings by experimenting with pigments to perfect a new form of watercolour technique.
Through the intervention of the painter Mattheus Terwesten, Henstenburgh was introduced to a number of important local collectors, notably Pieter van den Brande. Another significant patron was the botanical collector Agneta Blok, a collector of exotic plants and flowers who also commissioned natural history drawings of animals and birds from Bronckhorst, Holsteyn, Herman Saftleven and Maria Sibylla Merian. Further afield, the Grand Duke Cosimo III de’Medici in Florence is known to have owned three drawings by Henstenburgh as early as 1700.
Henstenburgh was never able to make a living from his art, however, and as Van Gool relates, ‘There he sat in his native town, with all his works of art about him, as if in oblivion, for rarely did he receive a visit from an art-lover.’ It was not until several years after his death that Henstenburgh’s drawings became especially popular with collectors, particularly in England. Van Gool notes that in 1750 he saw the Rotterdam collectors Jan and Pieter Bisschop, at an Amsterdam auction, pay 105 guilders for one of the artist’s watercolours of fruit. Henstenburgh’s son Antoni inherited his business as a pastry chef and was, like his father, also an amateur draughtsman of bird and insect subjects, and sometimes copied his father’s works.