Melchior d’Hondecoeter took up the genre of barnyard and park scenes, which he had learnt from his father, Gijsbert and uncle, Jan Baptist Weenix, absorbing also the influence of Frans Snyders, and carried it to a new level of elegance and technical perfection. His pictures are filled with both domestic and exotic birds, painted with equal accuracy of observation and delight. Hondecoeter worked by making ad vivum oil sketches of his favourite birds, captured in various striking or engaging poses, from which studies he would later populate his paintings. This picture, which is prominently signed at the centre of the composition, is an early work by the artist and can be dated to the 1660s. Hondecoeter established his style at an early stage and adhered to it throughout his long career.
Hondecoeter’s combination of technical brilliance, alert observation of nature and a playful imagination made him the greatest bird painter of his generation. His large-scale decorative game-pieces were popular amongst wealthy Amsterdam merchants and were commissioned to adorn the walls of their town houses and country mansions. They were also amongst the most desirable decorative paintings in Europe, to be encountered in almost any royal, princely or national collection by the nineteenth century. This painting was in the collection of the Count Boniface de Castellane, known as ‘Boni’, a French politician and key figure of the Belle Époque, and his wife Anna Gould, the daughter of an American millionaire who made his fortune in the railway industry. The couple married in 1895 and in 1902 they built one of the last great hôtel particulier of the 19th century in Paris, the Palais Rose. It was designed by Paul-Ernest Sanson and René Sergent, two of the last architects influenced by neoclassicism, who openly took inspiration from Versailles’ Grand Trianon, and recreated a perfect copy of the celebrated ‘Ambassador Staircase’, decorated by Charles Le Brun (demolished in 1752 under King Louis XV). Over a seven year period, Palais Rose hosted some of the most prestigious parties in Paris, welcoming celebrities, Paris’ aristocracy, Queen Isabel II of Spain, Kapurthala’s Maharaja, the Queen of Naples and even the Kings of Spain and Portugal in 1905.