The exquisite detail found within this small composition is extraordinary. The scene is set beneath a vibrant blue sky and bathed in a cool, crisp light. Soft strokes of pale blue and highlights of white scattered throughout lend a shimmering atmosphere to its picturesque vista. At center, a huntsman sits on a grey horse, with a hawk on his upraised arm, the strokes defining his grey costume echoing the plumes of feather's on his hat and those of his avian predator. Beside him, an elegant young lady dressed in white rides side saddle atop a russet-colored horse. To the left, on an undulating path, follow members of the hawking party, one of whom rides on horseback and the other of whom leads his horse, carrying the pack from the day, on foot with another hawk on his arm. A beggar and his wife stand in front of the figures at center, while nearby, in the foreground and along the water's edge, sits a young nursing mother with one child at her chest and another curled up asleep by her side. Towards the far right, a few other members of the party rest at a stone fountain next to a wooden cottage, covered in lush foliage and flowers. Above the cottage's delicate trellis, through which ride two horseman, is a small birdhouse nestled securely in the branches of an old tree. A number of valets and dogs are scattered throughout the foreground, while the background reveals a peaceful countryside with rustic ruins of a building at left and peaks of mountains along the horizon.
While he experienced much success in his lifetime, Wouwerman’s reputation continued to grow throughout the eighteenth century and his work was avidly collected by connoisseurs who appreciated his technical perfection and elegant subject matter. His pictures were particularly prized among collectors in France, where many of his compositions, including this one, were engraved and distributed for the enjoyment of many. Indeed, one indication of his popularity is attested by the successful publication of a series of prints after Wouwerman by the Frenchman Jean Moyreau (1690–1762), whose celebrated book of engravings includes the earliest known record of the present copper, also known in its earliest years as La Fontaine des Chasseurs, published almost a century after it was painted.
For much of its life, this painting was coupled with its pendant, A Halt of Armed Horsemen before an Inn, also known in the eighteenth century as Le Caberet and today in the Städel Museum, Frankfurt (fig. 1).2 The two were recorded together until the 1837 Paris sale of property belonging to Maria-Carolina, Duchesse du Berry. It seems likely that the two were separated at some point after this sale, for the present work then passed into the Viennese collection of Chevalier Joseph Lippmann von Lissingen, and sold at his sale in 1876 to Charles Sedelmeyer. The pendant in Frankfurt, however, was acquired by the Städel Museum from the Frankfurt Art Market in June 1871, and has remained in that collection ever since. While comparable to the present lot in handling, dimensions, and compositions, the Frankfurt example differs slightly in subject matter, for in that work, the huntsman have halted before a cottage at left, engaged in flirtatious activities with one of the maids from the household while boys undress and leap into the calm stream at right. The importance of both works is further underscored by a number of old copies that are known, the best of which are larger iterations on panel preserved in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon (inv. nos. 187-188).3
1. See Schumacher, in Literature.
2. Oil on copper, 18.4 by 25.3 cm, signed lower right, Frankfurt, Städel Museum, inv. no. 1072, See Krempel 2005, in Literature, p. 318-322, reproduced fig. 242.
3. Both oil on panel, 41 by 35 cm., see ibid., p. 320, reproduced figs. 243 and 244.
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