Hondecoeter was the pre-eminent bird painter of the Dutch Golden Age and his large-scale decorative game-pieces, of which this is a fine example, were highly popular amongst wealthy Amsterdam merchants, who commissioned them 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 19th century.
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. His mature style owes much to Frans Snyders, the important Flemish animal and still-life painter of a generation earlier, whose work he collected. From Snyders, Hondecoeter borrowed a compositional formula that he used consistently from the late 1660s: birds and animals are seen close up in the centre of the canvas, with others entering from the left or right, their bodies sometimes cropped by the frame, the middle ground blocked by a wall, fence, tree or architectural ruins across one half of the canvas, the remaining side opening to a distant vista.
Several of the birds depicted in this picture, including the pelican (a rare species at that time), the crowned crane, red breasted goose and muscovy, as well as the detail of the feather in the stream, recur in Hondecoeter’s famous upright picture in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, known as The Floating Feather, which was painted for the Stadholder, William III (1650-1702), later King of England. Indeed, the artist habitually repeated entire passages from one painting to another and often made copies of compositions with only minor variations.
We are grateful to Fred Meijer, of the RKD in The Hague, for confirming the attribution upon firsthand inspection of the painting.