One of the eighteenth century's greatest still life painters and animaliers, whose career would be the model for the younger Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Desportes was also a painter of unexcelled energy: he worked tirelessly on royal commissions for Versailles, Marly and Meudon and contributed designs for the factories of Gobelins, Sevres, Savonnerie, Chantilly, Compiegne and Choisy, in a sixty-year long career that produced more than two thousand works of art.
The present work, which is signed and dated 1711, clearly displays the skills that made Desportes' animal pictures so popular and admired: it is witty, elegantly composed and expertly painted, but moreover, every detail of it reveals the artist's meticulous observation and rendering of nature. Desportes was one of the first artists to regularly paint oil sketches from the motif and en plein air: he carefully studied the movements and expressions of birds and dogs in the field and more exotic animals in the Jardins des Plantes, and he went into the countryside to paint plant, grass and tree studies, landscape views, and cloud and sky studies. The group of 600 oil sketches that were acquired from Desportes' studio by the French crown in 1784 (today divided among a half-dozen French museums) are so spontaneous and audacious in their vision of nature that they easily rank among the most remarkable artworks of the century.
Undoubtedly, the approaching fox and each bird in the present painting would have been studied in an oil sketch, as would the plants and the landscape setting. While these individual studies have yet to be identified, the ornamental pheasant on the right of the composition reappears exactly (even down to its markings) in Chien braque en arrêt sur un faisan, a finished painting from around 1714 that remained in Desportes' studio and is now in the museum at Sevres (see the exhibition catalogue L'atelier de Desportes a la Manufacture de Sevres, Musée du Louvre, 1982-3, no. 12).