Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Pigeon House

Roelof van Vries (Dutch, Haarlem 1630/31–after 1681)
Oil on canvas
14 1/2 x 12 in. (36.8 x 30.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, 1871
Accession Number:
Not on view

This signed panel is typical of Van Vries, and also of the Dutch landscapes that constitute part of The Met's founding purchase of 1871. It depicts an ensemble of dilapidated buildings nestled at a turn in a tranquil waterway. The humble residence on the right was built against a medieval wall and a gate tower that recalls Jan van Goyen's versions of The Pelkus Gate near Utrecht (including 45.146.3 in The Met’s collection) and similar structures. The rickety shed perched perilously on the riverbank is either a privy or a run-in stall for animals. Four rustic male figures animate the scene, which seems set at the end of a typical working day in an unprosperous part of the countryside. The man in the boat struggles with a fish trap; a second large, urn-shaped basket has been hauled into his vessel, and a third rests in the boat to the left. The man in an apron on the shoreline who appears to be speaking holds a basket of fish and a walking stick. On the pathway, a shepherd follows his little flock, while a man looks on from the cottage doorway.

The picture probably takes its nineteenth-century title from the wooden shelter with a slanted roof on the tower, and from the birds fluttering about. Smaller birds may have nested inside the earthenware jugs mounted sideways on the chimney of the house. In northern Europe, small birds such as sparrows and finches would have attracted innocent admiration but pigeons were kept for food.

Similar towers, usually attached to the remains of a fortified wall, occur in a number of paintings by Claes Molenaer (1628/29–1676) and Cornelis Decker (ca. 1615–1678). Van Vries himself often depicted tall, square towers, some as parts of city gates, others as church towers, but most of them are attached to ruined castles or river forts. In all Van Vries's paintings of this type, walls of bricks are featured for the pictorial interest of their colors, textures, and accidental effects. This taste flourished in the 1650s and 1660s, as is seen also in the work of artists such as Daniel Vosmaer (1622–1669/70), Jan van Kessel (1641–1680), Jan van der Heyden, Pieter de Hooch, and Emanuel Murant.

Assigning dates to pictures by Van Vries is mere guesswork, but the style and composition of The Met's picture are most consistent with landscape conventions of the 1660s.

[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed (lower right): V[R]IES
comte Cornet de Ways Ruart, Brussels (until d. 1870); [Étienne Le Roy and Léon Gauchez, Paris; 1870]; William T. Blodgett, Paris (from 1870; sold half share to Johnston); William T. Blodgett, Paris, and John Taylor Johnston, New York (1870–71; sold to MMA)
New York. American Federation of the Arts. "Little Masters in 17th Century Holland and Flanders (circulating exhibition)," 1954–57, no catalogue.

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.

Katharine Baetjer. "Buying Pictures for New York: The Founding Purchase of 1871." Metropolitan Museum Journal 39 (2004), pp. 197, 204, 245, appendix 1A no. 74, ill.

Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 234, 500; vol. 2, pp. 934–36, no. 215, colorpl. 215, states that "the style and composition . . . are most consistent with landscape conventions of the 1660s".

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