Hondecoeter represents the fourth generation of a family of painters originally from Flanders. He grew up in Utrecht but from 1663 onward worked in Amsterdam. His large pictures of exotic birds in parklike landscapes decorated elegant town houses, the residents of which also enjoyed or imagined retreats to country estates.
Melchior d'Hondecoeter, who specialized in decorative paintings of fowl, represents the fourth generation of a family of painters that originally came from Flanders. He studied with his father, Gijsbert d'Hondecoeter (1604–1653), a painter of similar subjects, and with his uncle Jan Baptist Weenix (1621–1660/61). This large and splendid picture, dated 1683, is one of about twenty works that allow a tentative outline of the artist's chronology.
The trees and architecture depicted here (though the building's motifs are contemporary with the painting) suggest a grand old country estate. It was in such settings that aristocratic Europeans assembled rare birds and animals, cultivated unusual plants, and collected shells and other naturalia. Like earlier still-life painters, in particular Otto Marseus van Schrieck (1619/20–1678), Hondecoeter turned curiosities of nature into curiosities of art, and—on the scale seen in this painting—into elements of interior decoration. The peacock, which served as a symbol of pride in much earlier Netherlandish pictures, would have been recognized immediately as a creature from another continent, in this case southeastern Asia and the East Indies. In the confines of a room hung with paintings by Hondecoeter, it was easy to imagine not only the great outdoors of the Dutch countryside but also the entire world of Dutch overseas trade.
The crane, at left, was painted out at an unknown date and revealed by cleaning in 1956. It is present in an eighteenth-century copy by an anonymous Dutch watercolorist. In 1971, the watercolor appeared in a sale together with another of the same size that records a Hondecoeter composition depicting ducks and a pelican in a foreign landscape (Sotheby's, London, November 25, 1971, nos. 7–8). This suggests the possibility that the MMA canvas originally had a pendant. On the other hand, the watercolors could have come from a larger set or have been arbitrarily paired.
The cropping of birds and animals at the sides of the composition, as seen in this work, is common in the artist's oeuvre.
[2011; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed and dated (center right): MDHondecoeter. / AN [AN in monogram] 1683
?Cornelis Sebille Roos, Amsterdam (until 1820; his sale, Amsterdam, August 28, 1820, no. 47, for fl. 206 to C.F. Roos ); ?[Cornelis François Roos, Amsterdam, from 1820]; [H. M. Clark, London, until 1926; sold to Colnaghi]; [Colnaghi, London, 1926; sold to Contini-Bonacossi]; [conte Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, Rome, 1926–27; sold to Kress]; Samuel H. Kress, New York (1927)
New York. M. Knoedler & Co. "The Artist and the Animal," May 7–24, 1968, no. 41.
Portland, Oreg. Portland Art Association. "Primates in Art," August 15–September 17, 1972, no catalogue.
Raleigh. North Carolina Museum of Art. "A Gift to America: Masterpieces of European Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection," February 5–April 24, 1994, no. 27.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "A Gift to America: Masterpieces of European Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection," May 22–August 14, 1994, no. 27.
Seattle Art Museum. "A Gift to America: Masterpieces of European Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection," September 15–November 20, 1994, no. 27.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. "A Gift to America: Masterpieces of European Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection," December 17, 1994–March 4, 1995, no. 27.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.
H[ans]. Schneider inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 17, Leipzig, 1924, p. 433.
J[osephine]. M[cCarrell]. L[ansing]. "A Gift of Three Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 23 (March 1928), pp. 91–92, describes the work as one of three paintings given to the MMA by Kress.
Colin Eisler. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Vol. 4, European Schools Excluding Italian. London, 1977, p. 156, fig. 142, concludes that the formerly over-painted crane was hidden lest the canvas be regarded as a fragment; suggests that the picture may have belonged to a series of wall paintings; compares the composition of Hondecoeter's "Peacocks and Ducks" in the Wallace Collection, London.
Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 190.
Peter C. Sutton. Northern European Paintings in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: From the Sixteenth through the Nineteenth Century. Philadelphia, 1990, p. 128 n. 3.
Colnaghi in America: A Survey to Commemorate the First Decade of Colnaghi New York. Ed. Nicholas H. J. Hall. New York, 1992, p. 131, lists it among paintings sold by Colnaghi.
John Ingamells. The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Pictures. Vol. 4, Dutch and Flemish. London, 1992, p. 160, notes the repetition of the group of the peacock and peahen in a few paintings by Hondecoeter, including the MMA's and the one in the Wallace Collection, London.
Marilyn Perry inA Gift to America: Masterpieces of European Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Ed. Chiyo Ishikawa et al. Exh. cat., North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh. New York, 1994, pp. 19, 32 n. 18, mentions it as coming from "Contini's inexhaustible supply".
Chiyo Ishikawa inA Gift to America: Masterpieces of European Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Ed. Chiyo Ishikawa et al. Exh. cat., Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art. New York, 1994, pp. 178–80, no. 27, ill. (color), describes the subject and notes that there is "nothing natural" about the animals' presentation; observes a "certain anthropomorphic quality to the postures and expressions" of the animals in the foreground.
Els Vlieger. "Melchior d'Hondecoeter (1636-1695), der beste mahler umb vögeln zu mahlen." Kunstschrift 39 (July–August 1995), p. 20, fig. 23 (color), notes the similarity of the main motif to the peacock in Hondecoeter's "Birds on a Balustrade" of 1670 (Amsterdams Historisch Museum, Amsterdam).
Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), p. 38, fig. 46 (color).
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. xi, 348–50, no. 82, colorpl. 82; vol. 2, p. 939.
Master Paintings. Sotheby's, New York. June 8, 2017, p. 94, under no. 57.