Jan Siberechts was a Flemish painter who was active in England. He was the son of the sculptor of the same name and became a master in the Guild of St Luke in Antwerp by 1648. He married in 1652 and moved to England sometime between 1672 and 1674. About 100 landscape paintings by him are known, 65 of them dated.
Siberechts’s earliest dated works, such as his Italianate Landscape (1653; Berlin, Gemäldegalerie), reveal the influence of the Dutch Italianates, some of whose works he probably saw in Antwerp, rather than in Rome where they were active. Between 1661 and 1672 he developed an individual style that took its inspiration from rustic life in Flanders. These compositions have a symmetrical triangular plan in which the bright whites, reds and yellows of the predominantly female figures’ simple clothing form colourful accents against the cool green landscapes. Scenes with fords or flooded roads through which peasants wade with their cattle, hay wagons and carts laden with vegetables recur (e.g. Ford with Hay Wagon, Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle), enabling Siberechts to depict the glittering of light on moving water. The backgrounds, generally cut off by an impenetrable, dull-coloured screen of foliage, emphasize the figures, animals and brightly lit road in the foreground. His works made until 1665 display an obvious interest in light effects. Thereafter, the representation of volume and shape became a predominant concern, expressed through, for example, more prominent figures, placed sparingly in the foreground. He opened up the curtain of trees characteristic of his earlier paintings, allowing trunks and branches to stand out as decorative features.
George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (1628–87), became acquainted with Siberechts’s work in 1670 during a visit to the southern Netherlands and invited him to England, where he helped decorate the Duke’s residence at Cliveden, Bucks (1672–3). During the latter part of the 1670s and in the 1680s Siberechts travelled widely in England, establishing a reputation through numerous commissions from aristocratic clients. He painted English landscapes in much the same style as he had used before, distinctly Flemish although quite independent of Peter Paul Rubens or the Brussels school. In these works and in Siberechts’s few surviving watercolours he was particularly interested in portraying mighty trees and soft light on distant hills, making the figures less important than the landscape. The viewer’s eye is drawn towards the broad, brightly lit vista in the background, while the foreground is kept relatively dark.
Siberechts was commissioned by his English patrons to paint hunting scenes and what were the first country house portraits, for example the View of Longleat (1675; Longleat House, Wiltshire). These were all constructed to the same design, the aristocrats as huntsmen and horsemen in the foreground of a naturalistic view of the stately home, set in a misty and atmospheric landscape. These scenes, though compositionally dull, have significant historic and topographical interest and, above all, exercised considerable influence on English landscape painting. Siberechts has a claim to be regarded as the ‘father of British landscape’ (Waterhouse).