Petrus van Schendel is perhaps most famous for his nighttime market scenes which garnered substantial attention for his use of light and composition. With their interesting contrast between light and dark, these scenes have a mysterious aura to them. The focal point of these nocturne paintings is the candle which subtly illuminates the entire scene and showcases an overall complex composition. The candle provides a small yet brilliant glow which reflects onto the subjects’ facial features, thus inviting the viewer to imagine their own storyline. Van Schendel’s nocturne paintings truly exemplify the 17th-century Dutch tradition of candlelit paintings and provide a glimpse into what life was like for the working class of the 17th century.
Van Schendel was born in the Netherlands in 1806 and began his art studies early on at the Antwerp Academy. As a student, his primary focus was to become a portrait painter. He started his career painting portraits of various subjects, including his renowned self-portrait. While his career as a portrait painter proved to be successful, these paintings do not compare to his later nocturne paintings which show an incredible level of detail and naturalism.
Upon finishing his studies at the Antwerp Academy, van Schendel began travelling throughout Europe, picking up various artistic styles along the way. He finally settled down in Brussels in 1845, where he began to perfect his nocturne paintings. Strongly influenced by the 17th century tradition of Dutch candlelit paintings, van Schendel mastered the technique of chiaroscuro, or the balance between light and dark. This technique allowed him to paint incredible nocturne masterpieces, such as the painting seen here.