1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hondecoeter, Melchior d'
HONDECOETER, MELCHIOR D’ (c. 1636–1695), Dutch painter, was born at Utrecht, it is said, about 1636, and died at Amsterdam on the 3rd of April 1695. Old historians say that, being the grandson of Gillis and son of Gisbert d’Hondecoeter, as well as nephew of J. B. Weenix, he was brought up by the last two to the profession of painting. Of Weenix we know that he married one Josina d’Hondecoeter in 1638. Melchior was, therefore, related to Weenix, who certainly influenced his style. As to Gillis and Gisbert some points still remain obscure, and it is difficult to accept the statement that they stood towards each other in the relation of father and son, since both were registered as painters at Utrecht in 1637. Both it appears had practised art before coming to Utrecht, but where they resided or what they painted is uncertain. Unhappily pictures scarcely help us to clear up the mystery. In the Fürstenberg collection at Donaueschingen there is a “Concert of Birds” dated 1620, and signed with the monogram G. D. H.; and we may presume that G. D. H. is the man whose “Hen and Chickens in a Landscape” in the gallery of Rotterdam is inscribed “G. D. Hondecoeter, 1652”; but is the first letter of the monogram to stand for Gillis or Gisbert? In the museums of Dresden and Cassel landscapes with sportsmen are catalogued under the name of Gabriel de Heusch (?), one of them dated 1529, and certified with the monogram G. D. H., challenging attention by resemblance to a canvas of the same class inscribed G. D. Hond. in the Berlin Museum. The question here is also whether G. means Gillis or Gisbert. Obviously there are two artists to consider, one of whom paints birds, the other landscapes and sportsmen. Perhaps the first is Gisbert, whose son Melchior also chose birds as his peculiar subject. Weenix too would naturally teach his nephew to study the feathered tribe. Melchior, however, 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 a “Tub with Fish,” dated 1655, in the gallery of Brunswick. But Melchior soon abandoned fish or fowl. He acquired celebrity as a painter of birds only, which he represented not exclusively, like 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 Bürger 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 dogs 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. Hondecoeter, in great favour with the magnates of the Netherlands, became a member of the painters’ academy at the Hague in 1659. William III. employed him to paint his menagerie at 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 chateaux of Bensberg and Oranienstein at different periods of his life (Hague and Amsterdam). In 1688 Hondecoeter took the freedom of the city of Amsterdam, where he resided till his death. 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 and at Amsterdam. But there are fine examples in private collections in England, and in the public galleries of Berlin, Caen, Carlsruhe, Cassel, Cologne, Copenhagen, Dresden, Dublin, Florence, Glasgow, Hanover, London, Lyons, Montpellier, Munich, Paris, Rotterdam, Rouen, St Petersburg, Stuttgart and Vienna.