We are grateful to Fred Meijer for confirming the attribution to Hondecoeter on the basis of first-hand examination, and for suggesting a dating of circa 1680. Trained by his father Gijsbert de Hondecoutre and his uncle Jan Baptist Weenix (see note to lot 19), Melchior d'Hondecoeter took up the genre of barnyard and park scenes practiced by those artists and, absorbing also the influence of Frans Snyders, carried it to a new level of elegance and technical perfection. His pictures are peopled with both domestic and exotic birds, painted with equal accuracy of observation and delight. The birds in the present picture, while known in the Netherlands by the later seventeenth century, are not common barnyard fowl; they include overseas imports--such as the Muscovy duck and Egyptian goose entering from the right--and variants of more ordinary birds, specially bred for their exotic-looking crowns of feathers.
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 larger compositional paintings. At least one such sketch can be linked to the present work; this is a study of ten goslings and ducklings in a variety of attitudes (Lempertz, Cologne, 20 May 1995, lot 864 and Koller, Zurich, 19 May 2007, lot 29). The little gosling stretching out its tiny wings in the lower left of the present picture, as well as the two resting birds immediately to its left (the white one scratching its head with a webbed foot), are drawn from this study. The grey and white crested goose, which occupies the centre of the composition with a stately grandeur, seems to be beckoning the standing gosling with a protective, maternal air, as though to give it shelter, or--as the gosling's outstretched wings might suggest--to encourage it to fly. Hondecoeter seems to have been particularly pleased with this motif, for he redeployed it in two related compositions, both sold in these Rooms: one from the collection of Henry Hirsch, 12 June 1931, lot 6, the other 8 December 2009, lot 10 (£337,250). The distinctive feature of the present work is the placement of the grey and white crested goose in the centre, as the largest element of the composition, which lends it a sense of stateliness and even majesty. The symmetrical disposition of the other birds on either side of the crested goose, almost as though they are its attendants, lends the whole of the composition a classicism which resonates with the architecture of the elegant boathouse beyond.