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Monday, April 2, 2012

Melchior d'Hondecoeter

Melchior d'Hondecoeter
Someone once said, "If you want to be famous, learn to do one thing and do it well." There is no doubt a great deal of truth to that, though today, there are so many people trying to put it to the test, we've long since run out of "things" at which a single individual can be the best. One has only to take any given profession, whether it's medicine or law or art, then look at all the hundreds of different specialties and the thousands of different individuals practicing each one to realize we have a crisis on our hands. We have a severe shortage of things in which to specialize. If you want to see a graphic example, just go to any Internet browser and type in "colored pencil portraits." You'll hopefully see my name pop up among way too many others. And that's a specialty (colored pencils) of a specialty (pencil) of a specialty (portraits). I sincerely hope that everyone who reads this will join me in the battle to remedy this dire situation. We desperately need more specialties!

A Hen with her Chicks in a Landscape,
Melchior d'Hondecoeter, got his start painting
A while back I wrote about an artist, a Dutch painter named Aelbert Cuyp, who took it upon himself to be the best cow painter in all of Holland.  He succeeded admirably, though he was also admirably successful in using them as a focal point for his atmospheric depictions of the Dutch low country water and landscapes. Living about the same time was another Dutch artist equally successful in his tiny specialty. In fact, they probably knew each other. His name was Melchior d'Hondecoeter. His specialty was painting chickens. They should have teamed up. We could have had a real barnyard extravaganza! Throw in a horse painter, a couple pig painters, maybe a goat painter and a sheep painter or two and Old MacDonald would have felt quite at home.

Birds in a Park, 1686, Melchior d'Hondecoeter
Melchior was born in 1636, the son of Gysbrecht d'Hondecoeter, who was also a chicken painter. His mother's brother, Jan Baptist Weenix, likewise specialized in such fowl endeavors. The boy learned the family trade and never did anything else in his entire life. But, he was good at it...the best, in fact, even better than his father or uncle. And, he expanded the family business into peacocks, turkeys, ducks, geese, and eventually all manner of winged creatures, which he masterfully blended into Baroque landscapes of delightful beauty. His Birds in a Park, painted in 1686, is a complete menagerie of fine feathered friends in which he manages to capture not just each species' characteristics and the "look" of each bird, but something of their personalities as well, prompting comparisons in the viewer's mind to human creatures of similar ilk. His work was immensely popular at the time. In one of his paintings he even crossed over into butterfly painting, at which he was not nearly so accomplished. But I think we should graciously forgive this momentary lapse and appreciate this talented Flemish artist for recording the trials and tribulations of our colorful aviary friends in all their exquisitely plumed glories. He was simply the best at what he did. He found his niche in art and roosted there.
William III's Lowlands Wars (second version), 1680s ?, Melchior d'Hondecoeter, apparently a propaganda piece, the original Battle of Britain?

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