HONDECOETER, Melchior d'
(b. 1636, Utrecht, d. 1695, Amsterdam)
Peacocks and Ducksc. 1680
Oil on canvas, 211 x 177 cm
Wallace Collection, London
A group of Dutch artists in the seventeenth century represented live domesticated and wild birds. Their pictures do not belong to the category of still-life, but their emphasis on the textural and colouristic beauty of their subjects gives a still-life character to their works. Their patrons probably included the rich burghers who lived as landed aristocrats on estates in the country where they kept exotic as well as native fowl. Just as some painters were called upon by flower fanciers to make portraits of favourite blossoms, others were asked by amateur and professional poultry breeders to paint prize birds and common farmyard specimens. Melchior de Hondecoeter, who also painted a few game still-lifes, was the pre-eminent specialist of this branch of painting.
Depicting birds was a tradition in Hondecoeter's family. His grandfather was Gillis d' Hondecoeter (c. 1570-1638), an artist often inspired by Roelandt Savery's landscapes crammed with domesticated and exotic birds and animals, and his father, Gijsbert d' Hondecoeter (1604-1653), was a landscapist and a painter of birds, particularly waterfowl and poultry. Melchior is both observant and gifted as a colourist, and admirably renders the texture of his feathery creatures.