Lot 15
  • 15

Melchior d'Hondecoeter

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
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  • Melchior d'Hondecoeter
  • A cockerel, a turkey, hens and chickens in a farmyard
  • signed on the plank centre left: M·D· hondecoeter
  • oil on canvas


With Kees Hermsen, The Hague, 1934;
Anonymous sale, Wijnmalen Brandt Corstius, Amsterdam;
Anonymous sale, Geneva, Galerie Moos, 27 October 1934, lot 146 (reproduced plate XXXII in the catalogue);
Lebret sale, Dordrecht, Mak, 10 November 1936, lot 86;
With W. Paech, Amsterdam, before 1940;
Acquired for the present collection by 1967.


Amsterdam, Amsterdams Historisch Museum, 17e-eeuwse schilderijen uit de Verzameling Willem Russell, 20 June – 13 September 1970, no. 42.


E. Brochhagen and B. Knüttel, Alte Pinakothek München, Katalog III. Holländische Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts, Munich 1967, p. 35, under cat. no. 401 (with incorrect sale date);
S. Levie, in 17e-eeuwse schilderijen uit de Verzameling Willem Russell, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam 1970, p. 60, cat. no. 42, reproduced p. 61.


The painting is in an exceptional state of preservation. The paint surface, beautifully preserved throughout, is obscured by a layer of old varnish and dirt and will respond very well to a light clean. The canvas has a fairly old and very sympathetic lining which is stable. There are barely any interventions at all- only some light strengthening to a few small areas of thinness in the tail feathers of the cock, and a few small retouching to some very minor losses in his leg.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This striking composition is filled with Melchior de Hondecoeter’s vibrant naturalism and skill in creating lifelike interactions between birds in an extraordinarily realistic and convincing manner. The Swedish architect Nicodemus Tessin the Younger (1654–1728), visiting Amsterdam, described Hondecoeter’s style thus: 'He has a very loose manner of painting which yet remains wonderfully true to life when seen from a distance. He always tries to paint animals which have the most singular colours... he paints all kinds of animals well, but birds the best'.1 Hondecoeter achieved such effects in part through the observation and painting of many creatures from life. Arnold Houbraken (1660–1719), the artist’s biographer, even relates how he had such an affinity with his subjects that he trained a rooster to pose for him and could adjust its posture by means of the end of his paintbrush. The stance of the rooster here is a characteristic feature of many of Hondecoeter’s pictures of this type, in which he dramatizes the relationships between feathered friends and foes. The turkey and the brown hen also appear in Poultry in a landscape in the Toledo Museum of Art,2 and the pigeon, sitting on the dilapidated fence, is seen in mirror image in the Poultry yard in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The rather unusual format of this picture is not the result of a reduction in canvas size, as might first be supposed – the truncated figures of the chick, lower left, and the turkey, right, are part of Hondecoeter’s original conception. Their forms serve both to frame and lend cohesion to the group of fowl, as well as creating the characteristic descending diagonal, around which Hondecoeter based many of his compositions. The abbreviation of the birds also instils the scene with a sense of immediacy and spontaneity, as the startled rooster in the centre turns to confront the seemingly unexpected appearance of the stately turkey. Cropping birds or animals in this way, as they enter from the side, was a compositional device that Hondecoeter frequently used following the example of the great Flemish animal and still-life painter Frans Snyders (1579–1657), working a generation earlier.

Though not cut from a larger composition, the present painting is, however, a smaller variation of a painting in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, which measures 92.5 by 111.3 cm.4 There are several differences between the paintings: in the Munich composition the turkey has advanced further into the scene; the gait of the cockerel is less assured; a white chicken on the left puffs out its wings in defence of the large number of chicks on the farmyard floor; and another taller chicken observes the scene from behind. The present picture includes, by contrast, fewer chicks, the brooding white hen set back from the foreground, and the pigeon, balancing the slightly more elongated composition. There are also differences in the farmyard buildings in the background, although both pictures bear a resemblance to the setting of the Poultry yard painting in Detroit.

The chronology of Hondecoeter’s œuvre is difficult to establish since only about twenty of his paintings are signed and the repetition of motifs, sometimes decades after they were first introduced, leads to further complication. Although the artist does not appear to have made preparatory drawings, he did paint oil on canvas modelli through his study of birds and animals from life. Fourteen such works were recorded in his studio on his death, but only one survives today in the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille.5 Hondecoeter used these oil sketches to copy or adapt motifs in his finished pictures dating from about 1668 onwards; he would also repeat large passages with variations.6 The present picture exemplifies his ability to both repeat and skilfully alter compositions and subjects to create a new, coherent ensemble.

1 G. H. V. Upmark, Die Architektur der Renaissance in Schweden, 1530–1760, Dresden 1900, p. 125.

2 Inv. no. 1949.102.

3 Inv. no. 45.16.

4 Inv. no. 401. See Brochhagen and Knüttel 1967, p. 35, no. 401.

5 Inv no. P1027.

6 For a discussion of Hondecoeter’s chronology, see W. Liedtke, Dutch Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2007, vol. I, p. 348.