1988. At that time the two birds flying below the eagle were overpainted. After this sale, a cleaning revealed the snipe and finch, and the signature. The picture then entered the collection of Robert Noortman (1946 – 2007), a leading dealer of Dutch and Flemish Old Masters and one of the founding fathers of The European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf), and hung in his residence ‘De Groote Mot’ – a late Renaissance castle in the Belgian village of Borgloon, until his death in 2007.
Initially our painting was attributed to Peeter Boel (1622 – 1674) when it surfaced for the first time in modern times at auction in 1988. At that time the two birds flying below the eagle were overpainted. After this sale, a cleaning revealed the snipe and finch, and the signature. The picture then entered the collection of Robert Noortman (1946 – 2007), a leading dealer of Dutch and Flemish Old Masters and one of the founding fathers of The European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf), and hung in his residence ‘De Groote Mot’ – a late Renaissance castle in the Belgian village of Borgloon, until his death in 2007.
The eagle is of course himself the king of birds. The artist did not faithfully record an actual specimen in our painting, however. According to the bird specialist Ruud Vlek the bird has more in common with a buzzard (Buteo buteo). Yet, the large beak looks more like an eagle’s and the artist possibly combined elements from various species and various sources to create this hybrid creature.
i SK-A-1417. Canvas 84 x 132.5 cm. Signed.
ii See: J. Kearney, ‘Birds of a Feather: De Hondecoeter and the Birth of a New Genre’, The Low Countries. Arts and Society in Flanders and the Netherlands 16 (2008), p. 4.
iii As pointed out by Marrigje Rikken in her essay ‘Melchior d’Hondecoeter. Bird Painter’, in W. De Rooij & B. Mayer-Krahmer (eds.), Willem de Rooij. Intolerance, 3 vols., exh. cat. Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, 2010, vol. 3 (‘Melchior d’Hondecoeter’), pp. 11, 12.
iv See J. Kearny & D.H. van Wegen, Melchior de Hondecoeter. Schilder van buitenplaatsen, exh. cat. Kasteel Sypesteyn, Loosdrecht, 2012, in particular p. 11.
v For a discussion, see Rikken 2010 (note 3), pp. 20-22 and cf. J. Kearney, ‘Melchior de Hondecoeter in the Service of William III—Royal Taste and Patronage in the Dutch Golden Age’, in S. Bracken et al., Collecting and the Princely Apartment, Newcastle upon Tyne 2011, pp. 41-58.
vi E-mail correspondence of 4 July 2017. Ruud Vlek has been extensively researching the birds portrayed by d’Hondecoeter and has compiled a database listing all the species that could be identified. He writes that the tail of the bird in the present painting is too short for any eagle, the tail’s brown colouring throughout, the wings somewhat short and without the fingers so typical of eagle’s wings, furthermore the dark brown upper head and finally the light coloured belly.
vii D’Hondecoeter no doubt drew rapid sketches of live animals, a handful of which have been preserved. These in turn could be used as a basis for oil sketches, a rare example of which was recently acquired by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (SK-A-5023), which could then be used in preparation for autonomous oil paintings. For concise remarks on the artist’s studio practice, see L. Wepler’s small article in ‘Acquisitions’, The Rijksmuseum Bulletin 63 (2015), pp. 96-97. Composing an animal from various sources would seem to be an unusual approach for Hondecoeter who is noted for his sharp observation in portraying animals. Possibly, our painting is an early work from the late 1650s or early 1660s, when the artist was still developing a studio practice. It is also conceivable that he simply did not care for a truthful rendering of the eagle here because the painting was meant to look at from a distance and the foreshortened perspective would have rendered the accurate details inconspicuous anyway. With thanks to Lisanne Wepler for sharing her thoughts with me.
viii See: J. Foucart, Catalogue des peintures flamandes et hollandaises du musée du Louvre, Paris 2009, p. 159, nr. R.F.707.
ix On this see Lisanne Wepler’s essay ‘Fabulous Birds. Melchior d’Hondecoeter as Storyteller’ in De Rooij & Mayer-Krahmer 2010 (note 3), pp. 33-59.
x The two birds cannot be identified precisely and the finch could even be a tit. With thanks to Ruud Vlek (see e-mail mentioned in note 6).