Oil on canvas
32 x 25 inches (81.3 x 63.8 cm)
Private collection, Germany
Melchior de Hondecoeter was born into a family of artists and studied with his father, Gysbert de Hondecoeter, and his uncle, Jan Baptist Weenix. From 1659 to 1663 he lived in The Hague, and then moved to Amsterdam, where he spent the rest of his life.
de Hondecoeter’s specialty was the depiction of poultry, waterfowl, and exotic birds; he was known in the nineteenth century as the ‘Raphael of bird painters.’ He dramatically emphasized the color and texture of their plumage, and carefully observed the postures and movements unique to specific species. His compositions were often set in farmyards, courtyards and elegant parks, or were more isolated game and hunting scenes. de Hondecoeter output was prolific and, as a result, he has an expansive œuvre. He was highly esteemed by his contemporaries and often imitated.
Gaming and hunting still lifes were a favorite motif in Netherlandish painting. Many of the large format game still lifes reflect the interests and spheres of nobility at the time, but, nonetheless, were appreciated by everyone. The variety of forms, objects, and textures provided the artist an opportunity to show off his skills as a draughtsman as well as his painterly talent. This is most evident in our painting, which de Hondecoeter executes with the most refined brushwork and attention to precise detail.
The work of Melchior de Hondecoeter is represented in the Rijksmuseum; the Historisch Museum, Amsterdam; the Alte Pinakothek, Munich; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Hermitage, St Petersburg; the National Gallery, London and Belton House, Lincolnshire (National Trust). Numerous paintings in country houses in England and abroad are still in situ.
The composition of this painting is dominated by a dead pheasant hanging from a hook. The very hunting tools that led to its demise surround its limp form, draped against a stone slab. A soft light illuminates the hunting tackle, allowing the arrangement to subtly emerge from the dark recess of the vaulted niche in which it is set. Highlights accentuate the variety of minute details, which de Hondecoeter executes in tight, precise brushstrokes. These are most evident in the bird’s feathers, the individual hairs on the fur flask, the wood figuring on the gun, and the soft suede of the powder bag, all which create unending interest within the objects themselves. The rifle sits on the diagonal, echoing the vaulted ceiling above, and gently counter-balances the strong verticals of the wall on the right side, as well as the foul’s extended leg. de Hondecoeter utilizes a combination of contrasting lights and darks with subtle gradations of earth tones to soften the composition, gracing it with a quiet elegance.