This charming picture, signed clearly on the stone plinth at center left, is a quintessential work by Melchior d'Hondecoeter, sometimes called "the Raphael of birds". Hondecoeter was born into a line of artists: his grandfather, Gillis de Hontecoutre (1575-1638), and his father, Gisjbert Gillisz. de Hondecoutre, were both landscape and animal painters, and it was with the latter that Melchior received his first training. When his father died, Melchior became an apprentice to his uncle, Jan Weenix (1642-1749), whose influence is apparent in the Italianate character of his earliest dated work, the Dog Defending Dead Game against a Bird of Prey of 1658 (Le Havre, Musée des Beaux-Arts). Eventually, Melchior settled in Amsterdam, where he was married in 1663 and remained for the rest of his career. His mature style was greatly influenced by the important Flemish animal and still-life painter Frans Snyders, whose work he avidly collected and whose approach to painting animals intimately - and with extraordinary empathy - he absorbed. During the 1660s, Melchior produced many of the paintings for which he is best-known. These frequently feature birds or other animals at center foreground, with a distant landscape, seascape, or Italianate vista in the distance.
This well-preserved and unusually appealing picture depicts a group of resting birds, including peacocks, pigeons, and a mother hen who crouches at center foreground, protecting her baby chicks. Such scenes of maternal warmth were favorites of the artist: here, one chick is receiving special attention, tucked safely behind the wing of its mother, who glares outward as if to deter any unwelcome visitors. Hondecoeter frequently repeated partial or entire compositions: some of the specific motifs seen here, such as the resting chicks at right foreground, reappear in other of his works, including an example in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (inv. C 581). The composition, with some minor variations, is also known in a signed picture in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (inv. 837-1-39), which probably predates the present work (Q. Buvelot, loc. cit.).