Medium: Oil On Canvas
Size: 142 x 122 cm
Signed: bottom-centre: M Hondecoeter
Collection M.A. Degeuser du Havre, 1898; Private collection, France; by descent.
Catalogue de Tableaux Anciens des Écoles Française, Flamande et Hollandaise… composant la collection de M.A. Degeuser du Havre, Hotel Drouot, Salles no. 9 and 10, Le Vendredi 13 May, 1898, no 21 described as ‘Un paon, debout sur une balustrade de pierre, près d’un vase sculpté sur lequel repose un faisan. Une paonne chouchée, un pigeon et des oiseaux exotiques. Superbe tableau d’un ton chaud et lumineaux. Signé en toutes lettres. Toile. 1m. 42 cent. ; 1m. 22 cent.’ p. 12 – 13, illustrated; this work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné currently being produced by Dr. Joy Kearney.
The grandson of painter Gillis De Hondecoeter and nephew of Jan Baptist Weenix, De Hondecoeter was apprenticed to Weenix when the young artist’s father died. Melchior became a member of the painting guild in The Hague and remained there much of his career. Living on the Lauriergracht, De Hondecoeter was surrounded by art dealers and fellow painters. Studying under Weenix gave De Hondecoeter opportunity to develop his technique and his use of colour to the full. As well as scenes of birds in strikingly natural attitudes, De Hondecoeter painted wall hangings with views of buildings and parks although here, too, birds were usually a presence.
De Hondecoeter painted near exclusively bird subjects, whether exotic or game, in park-like landscapes or wild surrounds. His paintings feature geesepartridges, pigeons and peacocks, but also African and Asian cranes, Yellow-crested Cockatoos, Indonesian Purple-naped Lory and Grey-headed Lovebirds from Madagascar.
De Hondecoeter acquired celebrity with his bird depicted as living emotive creatures, whether peaceful and elegantly poised, or reactive and quarrelling. His images were in sharp contrast at that time to traditional depictions of birds by contemporaries who showed gamekeeper’s perquisite after a day’s shooting, or as stock in a poulterer’s shop or kitchen. It was said that De Hondecoeter displayed ‘the maternity of the hen with as much tenderness and feeling as Raphael the maternity of Madonnas.’
William III employed De Hondecoeter, then popular with the wealthy Netherlandish magnates, to paint the royal menagerie at Het Loo, a painting in which the artist depicted Indian cattle, elephants and gazelles with accuracy. Other of the painter’s works adorned royal castles at Bensberg and Oranienstein.
The artist was bold in his style, nuanced in his use of colour, and a strong draughtsman. In additions to masterpieces in the Mauritshuis and the Rijksmuseum, fine examples by Hondecoeter are in the collections of the Wallace, London, the Metropolitan Museum, New York, The National Gallery, London, and the Hermitage, St Petersburg. A recent exhibition of twenty-two paintings by the artist was held at the Kasteel Museum Sypesteyn, the Netherlands; it was organised by Dr. Joy Kearney, the expert who is currently producing a catalogue raisonné of Hondecoeter’s paintings in which this work will appear.