Melchior d'Hondecoeter (c. 1636 – 3 April 1695), Dutch animalier painter, was born in Utrecht and died in Amsterdam. After the start of his career, he painted virtually exclusively bird subjects, usually exotic or game, in park-like landscapes. Hondecoeter’s paintings featured geese (brent goose, Egyptian brent and red-breasted brent), fieldfares, partridges, pigeons, ducks, magpies and peacocks, but also African grey crowned cranes, Asian sarus cranes, Indonesian Yellow-crested Cockatoos, an Indonesian Purple-naped Lory and Grey-headed Lovebirds from Madagascar.
Being the grandson of the painter Gillis d'Hondecoeter and the son of Gijsbert d'Hondecoeter, whose sister Josina married Jan Baptist Weenix, he was brought up in an artistic milieu. Melchior's cousin Jan Weenix told Arnold Houbraken that in his youth Melchior was extremely religious, praying very loud, so that his mother and uncle doubted if they would have him trained as a painter or a minister.
In 1659 he was working in the Hague and became a member of the painters' academy there. In 1663 Hondecoeter married Susanne Tradel in Amsterdam. She is said to have been captious, and she had her sisters living in their house, and so Hondecoeter spent much time in his garden or drinking in the tavern in the Jordaan. On the Lauriergracht, where he lived for a time, he was surrounded by art dealers and various painters. Later he moved to a house on Prinsengracht (near Anne Frank House). In 1686 he bought a small countryhouse in Vreeland along the Vecht (Utrecht). Hondecoeter died in the house of his daughter Isabel in Warmoesstraat but was buried in Westerkerk. His inventory lists a small gallows, to keep birds in the right position, and several paintings of Frans Snyders.
Hondecoeter began his career with a different speciality from that by which he is usually known. Mr de Stuers affirms that he produced sea-pieces. One of his earliest works is Tub with Fish, dated 1655, in the gallery of Brunswick. But Hondecoeter soon abandoned fish for fowl. He acquired celebrity as a painter of birds only, which he represented not exclusively, like Johannes Fyt, as the gamekeeper's perquisite after a day's shooting, or stock of a poulterer's shop, but as living beings with passions, joys, fears and quarrels, to which naturalists will tell us that birds are subject. Without the brilliant tone and high finish of Fyt, his Dutch rival's birds are full of action; and, as Burger truly says, "Hondecoeter displays the maternity of the hen with as much tenderness and feeling as Raphael the maternity of Madonnas."
But Fyt was at home in depicting the coat of deer and dons as well as plumage. Hondecoeter cultivates a narrower field, and seldom goes beyond a cock-fight or a display of mere bird life. Very few of his pictures are dated, though more are signed. Amongst the former we should note the Jackdaw deprived of his Borrowed Plumes (1671), at the Hague, of which Earl Cadogan has a variety; or Game and Poultry and A Spaniel hunting a Partridge (1672), in the gallery of Brussels; or A Park with Poultry (1686) at the Hermitage of St Petersburg.
William III employed Hondecoeter, in great favour with the magnates of the Netherlands, to paint his menagerie at Het Loo, and the picture, now at the Hague museum, shows that he could at a pinch overcome the difficulty of representing India's cattle, elephants and gazelles. But he is better in homelier works, with which he adorned the royal castles of Bensberg and Oranienstein at different periods of his life. His earliest works are more conscientious, lighter and more transparent than his later ones. At all times he is bold of touch and sure of eye, giving the motion of birds with great spirit and accuracy.
His masterpieces are at the Hague, Soestdijk and at Amsterdam. But there are fine examples in the Wallace Collection and Belton House in England, and in the public galleries of Berlin, Caen, Karlsruhe, Kassel, Cologne, Copenhagen, Dresden, Dublin, Florence, Glasgow, Hannover, London, Lyons, Lille, Montpellier, Munich, Paris, Rotterdam, Rouen, St Petersburg, Stuttgart, Schwerin and Vienna. The largest Hondecoeter exhibition to date was held in Berlin in 2010, where 18 of his works were shown at the Neue Nationalgalerie as part of Willem de Rooij's installation 'Intolerance'.
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- Works and literature on Melchior d'Hondecoeter
- Melchior Hondecoeter in Houbraken's Schouwburg
- M. Rikken, 'Melchior d'Hondecoeter - Bird Painter', in: W. de Rooij, B. Meyer-Krahmer, Intolerance, Düsseldorf: Feymedia, 2010: p. 9-32.