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28 October, 2012
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Melchior D'Hondecoeter
Sometime during the last century someone said, "If you want to be famous, learn to do one thing and do it well." 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 speciality. In fact, they probably knew each other. His name was Melchior D'Hondecoeter. His speciality 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.

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 specialised in such fowl endeavours. 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 colourful 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.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
13 March 2000


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