Willem Jacob Herreyns – Portrait of Dominicus Van Peteghem (1780-1799) provost of Leliëndaal –
Willem Jacob Herreyns (Antwerp, 10 June 1743 – Antwerp, 10 August 1827) was a Flemish painter of history subjects and portraits. He is regarded as one of the last painters in the tradition of the Flemish Baroque and the last follower of Peter Paul Rubens.
Herreyns’ work was very highly regarded in his time. During a visit to Antwerp in 1780, the Swedish king Gustav III admired one of Herreyn’s works called The Purification of the Virgin, then in the Saint-Michael’s Abbey. The king immediately decided to appoint Herreyns as his court painter, although in reality Herreyns never went to Sweden. The Austrian Emperor Joseph II also praised his work during his visit to Mechelen and Herreyns painted two portraits of the emperor.
His religious compositions stand in the Rubens tradition, which he had studied initially under his master Balthasar Beschey, who painted in the 17th century Flemish Baroque style. Herreyns received many commissions from religious institutions in the province of Antwerp for which he painted large religious paintings. In 1775 he was commissioned by the Jezuits in Mechelen to design a series of floats on the occasion of the celebrations for the thousandth anniversary of the city’s patron saint Rumbold of Mechelen. He designed the floats together with local sculptor Pieter Valckx and also designed the triumphal arches. The designs were inspired by the designs of Rubens for the 1635 Joyous Entry by the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand into Antwerp. He painted a cavalry for Benedict Neefs in Hemiskem, now in the Royal Museum of Antwerp. After his return to Antwerp in 1797 Herreyns mainly painted portraits for which he was highly esteemed.
His educational influence now eclipses his reputation as a painter. Herreyns is considered the last follower of the Flemish baroque tradition founded by Peter Paul Rubens. He was a good colorist (tending towards the dark and red) and a draughtsman with a precise line, but his work shows a certain coldness and lacks originality.
Herreyns’ notable works include a Portrait of the painter Andries Cornelis Lens (after 1770), Godfrey, abbot of Tongerlo (1793) and John the Baptist in the Desert (1813). His work can be found in the Sint-Jan Baptist en Evangelist in Mechelen and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp.