Melchior de Hondecoeter (Dutch, 1695)


Melchior de Hondecoeter, known in the nineteenth century as the ‘Raphael of bird painters’ is one of the most renowned seventeenth century Dutch masters in this field. He was born into a family of artists and studied with his father Gijsbert Gillisz. de Hondecoutre and his uncle Jan Baptist Weenix.
Hondecoeter worked in The Hague from 1659 to 1663 and then moved to Amsterdam where he obtained citizenship in 1668. Melchior de Hondecoeter painted a variety of exotic birds distinguished by their brightly coloured and carefully observed plumage. These birds were often set in farmyards, courtyards or elegant parks and enhanced by the introduction of architectural features or distant landscape views. His compositions were sometimes enlivened by cocks fighting and attacks from birds of prey. Two highly unusual allegorical works, traditionally entitled Emblematic representations of King William's wars (Holkham Hall, Norfolk) depict birds battling monsters and, in the lower half, naval battles and the destruction of war.
Hondecoeter appeared to study his birds from the life in oil sketches rather than by making drawings. Only one of these modelli survives, Birds and animal sketches, consisting of detailed studies of seventeen birds and a squirrel (Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lille). During his lifetime, Hondecoeter's works were greatly sought after. He painted large, decorative murals for the town and country houses of rich Amsterdam burghers. Outstanding among these are the murals which adorned Driemond, a large country house near Weesp that belonged to the merchant Adolph Visser (parts are now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich).
The work of Melchior de Hondecoeter is represented in the Rijksmuseum; the Historisch Museum, Amsterdam; the Alte Pinakothek, Munich; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Hermitage, St Petersburg; the National Gallery, London and Belton House, Lincolnshire (National Trust). Numerous paintings in country houses in England and abroad are still in situ.