Von Purgau was active during the first half of the 18th century in Linz in Austria, the last three years of his life he moved to Vienna.
He was influenced by the Dutch painter Otto Marseus van Schrieck (1619/20 – 1678) who had invented a new subject in painting: so-called forest floors or nature pieces. These highlight an Italianate micro-cosmos of wild flowers and thistles, butterflies, frogs, toads and even snakes.
Our 18th century painting is already a late, decorative example of this investigative art, announcing the lightness of Rococo painting.
About Franz Michael Sigmund von Purgau
His name is sometimes spelt Franciscus Michael Siegmund Burgau.
Linz 1678 – 1754 Vienna
Still life painter, especially of forest floors and of animal still lifes.
Von Purgau was active in his birthplace Linz for the major part of his life.
Apparently a fair number of his paintings were painted for monasteries in and around Linz. He was also active there as a restorer, for example around 1740 at the Monastery of St Florian.
In 1651 he moved to Vienna, where he passed away January 1754.
It is not known whom von Purgau studied painting with, but he was clearly influenced by the nature pieces of Otto Marseus van Schrieck and by Carl Wilhelm de Hamilton. De Hamilton was ten years older than our painter, both passed away in 1754; he was nicknamed “Thistle Hamilton”.
His younger brother (or nephew?) Philipp (or Johann Philipp) von Purgau (Linz 1681 – in or after 1720) specialised in bird and hunting still lifes.
About Nature Pieces
Around 1650, the empirical investigation into the behaviour and physiology of butterflies, snakes, toads, lizards, chameleons, hedgehogs, etc. is detectable on a pan-European scale. Animals were either collected and housed in jars, or observed in their native or in specially designed and enclosed habitats.
During the second half of the 17th century the Dutch painter Otto Marseus van Schrieck (Nijmegen 1619/20 – 1678 Amsterdam) invented a new genre, a new subject of paintings: so-called "Nature Pieces": a small and bizarre micro-cosmos set against an often Italianate landscape background. These forest floors represent a mysterious dark close-up of the shadowy undergrowth of forest floors, giving detailed views of wild flowers, weeds, thistles and mushrooms, animated by butterflies, strange insects, reptiles, toads, frogs and lizards.
In 1648 van Schrieck had travelled to Italy with Mathias Withoos and with Willem van Aelst. In Rome they had joined the Schildersbent, an association of Northern painters, mostly Dutch and Flemish, notorious for its bacchic rituals and opposition to the Roman Accademia di San Luca. Here van Schrieck’s "Bentname" had been "Snuffelaar", the "Snuffler" because of his habit of roaming the countryside in search of plants, lizards and other animals.
Back in Holland van Schrieck, who had married a wealthy man's daughter in 1664, had a small estate outside Amsterdam, where he bred snakes and other animals.
Many important Dutch artists from the 2nd half of the 17th century and from the early 18th century painted the same subjects and were equally influenced by Otto Marseus van Schrieck, such as Rachel Ruysch, Abraham Begeyn, Willem van Aelst, Elias van den Broeck, Abraham Mignon, Melchior de Hondecoeter and Nicolaes Lachtropius. His influence also extended to Italy, where he influenced both Paolo Porpora and Giuseppe Recco, and to Germany and Austria, where his art had a serious impact on the different members of the Hamilton and Purgau families.
About our painting
The emphasis on a clear composition with rather light colours, lacking the typical earlier Baroque contrasts of light and shade announces already the Rococo period.