1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Potter, Paul
POTTER, PAUL (1625-1654), Dutch animal painter, was born at Enkhuizen, Holland. He was instructed in art by his father, Peter Potter, a landscape and figure painter of some merit, and by Nicolas Moeyaert, of Amsterdam. Other masters and influences are mentioned by various writers, but more than any other of his contemporaries he learnt through direct study from nature. By the time he had attained his fifteenth year his productions were already much esteemed. In 1646 he went to Delft, where he became a member of the gild of St Luke. At the age of twenty he settled at the Hague, and there married in 1650. He was patronized by Maurice, prince of Orange, for whom he painted the life-size picture of the “Young Bull,” now one of the most celebrated works in the gallery of the Hague. In 1652 he was induced by Burgomaster Tulp of Amsterdam to remove to that city. His constitution seems to have been feeble, and his health suffered from the unremitting diligence with which he pursued his art. He died on the 15th of January 1654 at the age of twenty-nine.
His paintings are generally small; early in life, however, he attempted, but with ill success, to work on a monumental scale, as in the “Bear Hunt” at the Rijks Museum and the “Boar Hunt” of the Carstanjen collection, Berlin. Even the famous “Equestrian Portrait of Tulp” in the Six collection, Amsterdam, is awkward and stiff and hard in handling. His animals are designed with careful accuracy, while the landscape backgrounds are introduced with spirit and appropriateness. His colour is clear and transparent, his execution firm and finished without being laboured. His view of nature is purely objective and unemotional; he painted with the greatest directness and simplicity the things he saw before him, and his paintings of horses and cattle are so individualized that they become faithful portraits of the animals. The best among his small portraits of horses are in the Louvre and in the Schwerin Gallery; and certain of his studies are the most brilliant of all.
The earliest dated picture of importance is “Abraham Entering Into Canaan” (1642), at the Germanic Museum in Nuremberg, in which he makes the Scriptural subject an excuse for painting the patriarch's herds, just as in his “Orpheus” of 1650 (Rijks Museum, Amsterdam) he makes similar use of the Greek myth. Among his finest works on a small scale are a cattle piece (1653) in the Duc d'Arenberg's collection, and a similar, though earlier, picture in the Munich Pinakothek. In spite of his early death Paul Potter produced a great number of works. He worked with feverish application, as though he were aware of the short span of life that was granted him. He executed a series of some twenty etchings, mainly of animals, which are simple and direct in method and handling. Here, as in painting, his precocity was remarkable: his large plate of the “Herdsman,” produced when he was only eighteen, and that of the “Shepherd,” which dates from the following year, show him at his best as an accomplished master of the point.
Potter's works have been engraved by Bartolozzi, Danckerts, Visscher, Le Bas and others. Authentic paintings from his brush command very considerable prices. At the Stover sale in 1890 “The Dairy Farm” realized the record price of £6090. There are two of his paintings at the National Gallery, three in Buckingham Palace and a few in the duke of Westminster's collection. On the continent of Europe the most numerous and representative examples are to be found at the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, the Hermitage in St Petersburg, and the Dresden Gallery.
See Paulus Potter, sa vie et ses œuvres, by T. van Westrheene (the Hague, 1867); Eaux-fortes de Paul Potter, by Georges Gratet Duplessis; and an old but interesting volume, Paul Potter, peintre de l'école hollandaise, by C. L. F. Lecarpentier (Rouen, 1818). (P. G. K.)