HONDECOETER, Melchior d'
(b. 1636, Utrecht, d. 1695, Amsterdam)
Birds and a Spaniel in a Garden-
Oil on canvas, 127,6 x 152,4 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor
The picture is signed upper left on wall: M. d'Hondecoeter.
The artist was born in Utrecht and lived for a short time in The Hague before settling permanently in Amsterdam in 1663. He was trained by his father, Gysbert de Hondecoeter, and by his uncle, Jan Baptist Weenix, who had spent three years in Italy during the 1640s. Melchior de Hondecoeter specialised, like his father, in painting animal and bird pictures, but the backgrounds, usually comprising imaginary landscapes, are more influenced by Weenix. Fidelity to subject matter perhaps accounts for the lack of development in his style, and dated works only occur after 1668, so that it is difficult to suggest a specific chronology for the undated items that abound in his oeuvre. Hondecoeter frequently repeated animals and poses in several pictures and it is apparent, therefore, that he relied upon a pattern book of motifs. His paintings proved to be popular with contemporaries as part of decorative schemes in country houses, and by extension this accounts for his popularity in eighteenth-century England.
The foreground is dominated by a fighting cock, a tortoise, a crowned crane, a white hen with chickens and a barking spaniel. In the middle distance are a hoopoe on the left, a domesticated flying pigeon in the centre and a cassowary just to the right of centre. Behind them can be seen a peacock, a peahen and two flamingos. Hondecoeter often showed animals entering the composition from outside the picture space in the manner of the fighting cock on the left. Most of the birds and animals recur in other pictures by the artist, but the high quality of the painting throughout, the vivid colouring and the convincing sense of movement do not suggest any intervention by studio assistants.