Hondecoeter established his style at an early stage and adhered to it throughout his long career. Trained by his father Gijsbert and his uncle Jan Weenix, he took up the genre of barnyard and park scenes practised by those artists and carried it to a new level of elegance and technical perfection. This picture is an early work by the artist and can be dated to the 1660s. It has many of the compositional devices favoured by the artist at that time, when he was also influenced by the work of Frans Snyders (see lot 7), whose paintings he collected.
Hondecoeter captures, rather subtly, human interaction in his subjects - the seemingly knowing glances exchanged by a peacock and his mate in the painting sold at Christie’s, New York, 26 January 2011, lot 25 ($1,650,000), and the parental attitude of the Muscovy duck in the present picture both demonstrate this. Hondecoeter came to be the greatest bird painter of his generation, with his pictures widely collected and found in almost any royal, princely or national collection by the nineteenth century.
John Warde inherited Squerries Court in 1746 on the death of his eponymous father, who had purchased the estate in 1731. A man of varied interests, he was painted by both Devis and Stubbs, and commissioned a view of his brother-inlaw William Clayton’s house, Harleyford Manor, from Francesco Zuccarelli. He regularly purchased Old Master pictures, and his manuscript ‘Catalogue of Pictures of my own collecting’ (op. cit.) documents the way he built up his collection, acquiring ninety-three pictures for a total of L692.8s. Some fifty-four of these remain at Squerries, which is thus a locus classicus of mid-Georgian taste. His acquisitions ranged in scale from two large Luca Giordanos and a masterpiece by Pieter de Ring, to a small copy of a van Mieris by Liotard, purchased at the artist’s sale in these Rooms. Warde’s most ambitious acquisition was the family portrait by Frans Hals, now in the Museo de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.
We are grateful to Dr. Fred Meijer from the RKD, The Hague, for confirming the attribution on the basis of photographs.