1636 Utrecht – 1695 Amsterdam
Oil on Canvas, 139,5 x 166 cm
In Flemish painting, the theme of the poultry farm was originally established by Frans Snyders in around 1630, but the main specialist for this subject was Melchior de Hondecoeter.
Animal painting was very popular those days; poultry farms were symbols of wealth. Painting poultry or birds in general is very difficult as they are, by nature, constantly moving. Animal painters were taught to nail the birds they had to paint to a surface in the position they wanted them, or to tie them with cords for an in-flight position. The story goes, that Melchior de Hondecoeter had a tamed cock and trained it stay in every position he demanded, like a perfect model.
The theme of a poultry farm with exotic birds could be seen as the height of God’s creation, or even as reconstruction of Paradise where all different kinds of birds live peacefully together. Representations of birds lives were allegedly used as allusions to society: in terms of social class, solidarity and harmony, but also were concerned with conflicts within these communities.
Melchior de Hondecoeter was the most outstanding painter in that genre and more than deserves his sobriquet as being the Raffael amongst animal painters. Born in Utrecht in 1636, he went to Den Haag in 1659 and became member and chairman of the painter’s guild. In 1668 he received the citizenship of Amsterdam, where he died in 1695. He was taught by his father and by his uncle Jan Baptist Weenix, but was also influenced by Abraham van Beyeren.
Compared to his precursors, Hondecoeter was extremely gifted and particularly able to paint animals, in motion as well as in flight. He observed and studied the animals he painted meticulously. The feathers of the animals are rendered brilliantly. His compositions were meant to meet decorative and aesthetic demands.
The central subjects in his painting almost always have eye contact with the viewer. In general, Hondecoeter follows very strict compositional rules, which can also be seen in the line of sight between the poultry he depicts. By doing so, he also adds to these scenes a social meaning and a reflexion of social hierarchy.
Having a closer look at the composition with the Chinese goose, all the inherent structure of communication as well as social standing within the animals can be discerned in the painting. The little duck in the foreground seems to be engaged in a conversation with the duck at the right of the Chinese goose and the cocks in the background seem to be engaged in a verbal fight. These little scenes within the setting add a special liveliness to Hondecoeters' paintings.
Bought mid-19th century in Holland by a member of the Schneider family.
Collection Eugène Schneider II, Paris.
Collection madame Eugène Schneider II, Hôtel Schneider, 34 cours Albert Ier, Paris.
Collection Pierre de Cossé, duc de Brissac.