Oil on panel
3 1/2 x 5 inches (8.5 x 12.5 cm)
Signed: H. Savery
Private Collection, New England
Hans Savery, also known as Jan, was born into a family of artists. He was the nephew of the artist Hans Savery the Elder, as well as well-known Flemish master, Roelandt Savery, and the son of artist Jacob Savery. Jacob and Roelandt migrated to the Northern Netherlands in the 1580s, settling first in Haarlem and then moving to Amsterdam. There is less information about the life of Hans, but it is known that he worked primarily in Amsterdam and most likely studied under his uncle Roelandt, joining Roelandt in Prague between 1610 and 1615 while he was still working at the royal court of Rudolf II. In 1619, he again followed his uncle to Utrecht, where they lived in the same house. As he shared so much of his life with Roelandt, it is unsurprising that we see in Hans a similar interest in the interpretation of nature via a distinctive Flemish flavor.
Our picture, Birds by a Waterfall, is a seemingly late autumnal scene in which a large flock of birds gathers by a waterfall. Savery groups the birds into three clusters, helping to organize the compositional space and guide the viewer’s eye from the bottom left corner to the top right corner in a sweeping swirl. The majestic white creatures at the left are probably Dodo birds, a flightless species that is now extinct. The birds in the stream are shown preening their feathers, feeding, or swimming, thus animating the composition. Savery successfully combines rather vigorous brushwork in the rendering of each bird with a graceful line. The movement and playfulness of the birds is echoed in the arc of the waterfall, which seems to leap forward from the picture plane. These pictorial elements communicate a tangible energy to the viewer, balanced by the elegant, simple beauty of the natural world. A spectacular palette of gold-yellow, brown, and green, as well as the subtle inclusion of two additional birds taking flight into the cool, blue-gray sky enhances the autumnal theme. The drama of the changing seasons is further recalled by the contrast between the dark tones in the foreground and the lighter sky beckoning in the distance.