Frans Snyders (Antwerp 1579-1657)
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Frans Snyders (Antwerp 1579-1657)

Dogs fighting in a wooded clearing

Frans Snyders (Antwerp 1579-1657)
Dogs fighting in a wooded clearing
oil on canvas
68¼ x 95¼ in. (173.4 x 241.9 cm.)
Private collection, Spain.
Pintures Flamencos y Holandes, Barcelona, November 1953, p. 43, p. X.
H. Robels, Frans Snyders: Stelleben und Tiermaler, Munich, 1989, p. 460, no. A182a.
Special notice
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to the buyer's premium, which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

Lot Essay

When Hella Robels published her formidable catalogue raisonné of the work of Frans Snyders in 1989, it would appear that she only knew the present painting from a photograph in the November 1953 volume of Pintures Flamencos y Holandes. Robels listed the present picture as being from a collection in Barcelona, of unknown dimensions and as a copy after the painting by Frans Snyders' brother-in-law, Paul de Vos, in the collection of Major Mills, Hilborough (op. cit., p. 460, no. A182). Both that picture and the present lot are remarkably similar, with the foreground consisting of the same configuration of sparring dogs, set in dramatic relief against different landscape backgrounds. Robels also recorded another, slightly smaller, version of the Mills Paul de Vos as being with the Leger Galleries in 1958 (ibid., no. A182b), in which there are some differences in the configuration of the hounds and the addition of a small dog on the left, inserted into a landscape that is more reminiscent of the Mills picture than the present lot. She also noted that the composition of the Mills painting undoubtedly derived from the work of Snyders.

However, Fred Meijer of the RKD, on the basis of a transparency, noted the quality of the present lot and tentatively suggested that it is closer to Frans Snyders than Paul de Vos. Professor Susan Koslow, to whom we are also grateful, has independently confirmed that opinion on the basis of a transparency, accepting this as a fully autograph work by Frans Synders and calling it a 'superb and exceptionally interesting painting' (private correspondence, 12 October 2005). This would presumably make this painting the prime version, on which the other versions are based. Like Meijer, she believes the work to be late, and possibly contemporary with the series of sixty hunting scenes and animal paintings that Snyders famously painted circa 1636-1639 for Philip IV's hunting lodge, the Torre de la Parada, and the Royal palace in Madrid. Koslow also compares the present canvas stylistically to the signed and dated Boar Hunt of 1653 in the Royal Collection, Kensington Palace. She notes the grace of the hounds, which are less weighty than those in Snyders's earlier oeuvre and comments on such details as the articulation of the paw on the upturned dog on the left and the individualised character expressed in the faces of the hounds, all characteristic of the artist's style. Like much of his work, the landscape is probably by another artist, close to Jan Wildens. She further observes that:

'One of the most striking aspects of Snyders' depiction of animals is that he never loses sight of its anatomical structure. Beneath the fur and its attractive markings internal architecture exists. Snyders sees below the topography of the surface visualising the skeleton, musculature, viscera, and so forth and uses this knowledge to create animate dramatic actors. This point is best exemplified by the spotted hound, a brilliant creation. The animal's rapacious energy, its dynamic force is apparent in its pose, its curved back, upturned neck and extremities that steady it as it claws its enemy. Its mottled fur, though certainly decorative, follows the body's inner form, such as the spine, bulging ribs, pumped thigh muscles, the bones of its long limbs, to mention only a few of the most prominent anatomical elements. (Paul de Vos... likewise depicted mottled coats in highly dramatic hunting scenes (Prado, Madrid), but de Vos was essentially concerned with surface pattern and did not reveal anatomical structure by means of mottling or other means).'

Professor Koslow has also commented upon the nobility of the hounds depicted, noting that the hunting dogs here are divided into two packs (one comprising only russet dogs), which would have been owned by a seigneur or lord, as indicated by their carefully delineated collars. Whilst normally they would form a cohesive, highly-specialised pack, order here is turned into dynamic disorder, as these well-fed dogs fight, the causa belli presumably being the bone in the far right corner.

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