Saturday in the Museum with Melchior

Image: Melchior d’ Hondecoeter, “Peacocks” (1683). Oil on canvas

During this time of corona, we have reduced postings on this dining guide site to three things:  1) Updating the post on ways you can help those who lost their jobs in the food & beverage industry; 2) Updating the post on ways to help D.C. restaurants; and 3) Our Saturday posts on art.  The first two are to help others, the art posts are to make us – and maybe you – feel good.  We have been posting on still life painting since the first of the year and our making our way to the end of the 17th Century and the height of the golden age of Dutch painting.

For this week’s painting, we found one that is bright and where the animals depicted are alive.  “Peacocks” by Melchior d’ Hondecoeter is in the collection of the Met.  Here is the capsule of his life on the site:

“Hondecoeter represents the fourth generation of a family of painters originally from Flanders. He grew up in Utrecht but from 1663 onward worked in Amsterdam. His large pictures of exotic birds in parklike landscapes decorated elegant town houses, the residents of which also enjoyed or imagined retreats to country estates.”

Here is the Met description of the piece:

“The trees and architecture depicted here (though the building’s motifs are contemporary with the painting) suggest a grand old country estate. It was in such settings that aristocratic Europeans assembled rare birds and animals, cultivated unusual plants, and collected shells and other naturalia. Like earlier still-life painters, in particular Otto Marseus van Schrieck (1619/20–1678), Hondecoeter turned curiosities of nature into curiosities of art, and—on the scale seen in this painting—into elements of interior decoration. The peacock, which served as a symbol of pride in much earlier Netherlandish pictures, would have been recognized immediately as a creature from another continent, in this case southeastern Asia and the East Indies. In the confines of a room hung with paintings by Hondecoeter, it was easy to imagine not only the great outdoors of the Dutch countryside but also the entire world of Dutch overseas trade.

“The crane, at left, was painted out at an unknown date and revealed by cleaning in 1956. It is present in an eighteenth-century copy by an anonymous Dutch watercolorist. In 1971, the watercolor appeared in a sale together with another of the same size that records a Hondecoeter composition depicting ducks and a pelican in a foreign landscape (Sotheby’s, London, November 25, 1971, nos. 7–8). This suggests the possibility that the MMA canvas originally had a pendant. On the other hand, the watercolors could have come from a larger set or have been arbitrarily paired.

“The cropping of birds and animals at the sides of the composition, as seen in this work, is common in the artist’s oeuvre.”


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Have a great weekend.  Be safe and keep your distance.