Jan Weenix was the son of the Italianate landscape and genre painter Jan Baptist Weenix (1621–1660/61) and the nephew of Melchior d’Hondecoeter (whose Peacocks hangs nearby). This "hunting trophy" was probably intended for a town house, but it evokes life on a huge estate in another European country. The ends of a hunting horn emerge from beneath the heron’s wings. Two falcon hoods are tucked into the flora and fauna on the right, and to the lower left is a bird whistle made from leather bellows and a lobster claw.
This canvas of 1695 is a fine example of a hunting trophy, a type of gamepiece for which Weenix was especially admired in his own time. He appears to have painted his first gamepiece in the late 1670s and to have composed his first trophies set in parklike landscapes shortly thereafter. Hunting trophies and pictures of live birds and animals on the grounds of grand estates were painted during the same years (the early 1680s) by Weenix's first cousin and former co-pupil, Melchior d'Hondecoeter. The two artists adopted motifs and design ideas from Willem van Aelst (born 1627, died in or after 1683), who also worked in Amsterdam, and from their teacher Jan Baptist Weenix (1621–1660/61), who was Weenix's father and Hondecoeter's uncle. The cousins also influenced each other, with the slightly older Hondecoeter initially playing a somewhat greater role. However, it was the hunting trophies by Weenix, which are usually more delicate in their descriptive qualities and more naturalistic in their light and sense of space, that came to dominate the genre in the 1690s and during the first two decades of the eighteenth century.
The main feature of The Met’s picture is a dead heron, arranged with an eye for graceful curves and a fountainlike display of feathers. The other motifs on the ground are laid out in deference to the large bird, the prize catch in this fanciful ensemble. The two ends of a long hunting horn, with red tassels from its cord, frame the heron's wings. An elegant bandolier with an elaborate buckle is attached by a metal clip to a falconer's bag lying flat to the far right, with a yellow falcon's hood on top of it. Another falcon's hood with a plume has been set down on the heron, and like the finches in the foreground is colored blue to complement its mate. The object in the left foreground is a hunting whistle, consisting of leather bellows and a lobster claw. The bellows were inflated by blowing through a hole in the claw, and then tapped to emit a peeping sound that would attract birds.
Flourishing leaves and red flowers embellish a large urn or jardiniere, which is decorated with an antique-style relief of infants cavorting by an altar, a tall herm with a head of (most likely) Pan, a Bacchus type of figure riding on a goat, and to the right a reclining woman, perhaps Ceres, goddess of agriculture. The relief refers to fertility, lending the still life a lightly learned tone. Weenix repeated the relief in other pictures, and included different imitations of Roman reliefs.
Behind the birds, a pile of netting effects a soft transition to the lake, where the eye is led past a fountain (a jet of water is visible) with a statue in an archway to a palace flanked by a classical entrance gate. The entire body of water is bordered in stone. In the left background, a tall gate crowned by a bust in a lunette introduces an allée of cypress trees. A man walking a dog, a landing stage with urns and statues, two swans, and streaks of sunlight complete the picturesque tableau. Farther back, a courtly couple, attended by a page, stand by the edge of the lake as a boatman approaches.
The various birds depicted here give the impression of having been studied from life, however artful their lifeless poses may appear. Like many Dutch painters active in the last decades of the seventeenth century, Weenix managed to maintain a fine balance between beautiful decoration and close observation.
[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed and dated (upper right): Jan Weeninx Fecit Ao.1695
?Baron Nathaniel Mayer Rothschild, Theresianumgasse, Vienna (until d. 1905); his nephew, Baron Alphonse Mayer Rothschild, Theresianumgasse, Vienna, later U.S.A. (by 1939–d. 1942 [seized by the Nazis; inv., 1939, no. 424, as Geflügelstilleben; held at Alt Aussee (2377) and at Munich collecting point (3639)]); his widow, Clarice, Baroness Rothschild, New York ([returned to Austria March 15, 1948; restituted] until 1950; sold to Rosenberg & Stiebel); [Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York, 1950; sold to MMA]
Buffalo. Albright Art Gallery. "Trends in Painting, 1600–1800," October 2–November 3, 1957, unnumbered cat.
Athens. National Pinakothiki, Alexander Soutzos Museum. "Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Memories and Revivals of the Classical Spirit," September 24–December 31, 1979, no. 50.
Memphis. Brooks Memorial Art Gallery. "Seventeenth-Century Dutch Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," May 1–June 23, 1982, no catalogue?
Columbus, Ohio. Columbus Museum of Art. "Seventeenth-Century Dutch Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," August 28–November 28, 1982, no catalogue?
Hamilton, N.Y. Picker Art Gallery, Colgate University. "Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," February 6–April 17, 1983, no. 11.
Rochester, N.Y. Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester. "Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," May 3–June 5, 1983, no. 11.
Amarillo, Tex. Amarillo Art Center. "Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 22–July 31, 1983, no. 11.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. "Italian Recollections: Dutch Painters of the Golden Age," June 8–July 22, 1990, no. 70.
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.
Ingvar Bergström et al. Natura in posa: la grande stagione della natura morta europea. Milan, 1977, p. 219, ill.
Scott A. Sullivan. "Rembrandt's 'Self Portrait with a Dead Bittern'." Art Bulletin 62 (June 1980), pp. 242–43, fig. 9, suggests that this kind of hunting piece is really a token of the hunt, rather than a depiction of the results of an actual hunt; notes that the diversity of fowl in the painting would have required different methods of capture.
Stephanie Dickey et al. Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Picker Art Gallery, Colgate University. Hamilton, N.Y., 1983, pp. 32–33, no. 11, ill., describes the arbitrary combination of motifs, making "the scene an emblem of wealth and leisure rather than a naturalistic still life".
Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, pp. 190.
Gregor J. M. Weber. Stilleben alter Meister in der Kasseler Gemäldegalerie. [Kassel], 1989, p. 39, fig. 34a (color), cites the painting as an example of Weenix depicting a classical relief with Pan, Priapus, Silenus, or similar gods.
Walter Liedtke. "Dutch Paintings in America: The Collectors and Their Ideals." Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1990, p. 55, mentions it among the MMA's more significant purchases of Dutch art since World War II.
Peter C. Sutton. Northern European Paintings in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: From the Sixteenth through the Nineteenth Century. Philadelphia, 1990, p. 359, fig. 131-2, notes the repetition of the relief on the jardiniere in a similar painting by Weenix, dated 1700, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Frederik J. Duparc and Linda L. Graif. Italian Recollections: Dutch Painters of the Golden Age. Exh. cat., Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Montreal, 1990, pp. 209–10, no. 70, ill. (color), note the ornate antique urn in the composition and suggest that it recalls his earlier southern scenes; observe the statues and other classical motifs that are prevalent in his works from the 1660s and characteristic of his work in general.
Beverly Louise Brown. "Montreal, Dutch Italianate Painters." Burlington Magazine 132 (August 1990), p. 603, claims that the "overblown still life" reveals "how overpowering the urge to aggrandise was at the end of the century".
Sophie Lillie. Was einmal war: Handbuch der enteigneten Kunstsammlungen Wiens. Vienna, 2003, p. 1018, no. 424, lists it in the 1939 inventory of art works owned by Alphonse Rothschild.
Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 22, 50.
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. xi, 144; vol. 2, pp. 939–41, no. 216, colorpl. 216.