Melchior d’Hondecoeter is one of the most renowned 17th century Dutch masters in his field, specialising in bird subjects, both domestic and exotic, often in vigorous movement and sometimes pointing a moral.
Born into a family of artists, Hondecoeter trained with his father Gysbert (1604–53), was also a bird painter, and his grandfather, Gillis (d1638), who was a landscapist. He went on to work in The Hague from 1659 to 1663 and then moved to Amsterdam where he obtained citizenship in 1668.
Later on Hondecoeter became known as the ‘Raphael of bird painters’ in the nineteenth century, which was due to his mastered depictions of a variety of exotic birds distinguished by their brightly coloured and carefully observed plumage. It seems that the artist studied the birds from life in oil sketches rather than making drawings. Only one of these modelli survives, Birds and animal sketches, consisting of detailed studies of seventeen birds and a squirrel.
During his lifetime, Hondecoeter’s works were greatly sought after. He painted large, decorative murals for the town and country houses of rich Amsterdam burghers. Outstanding among these are the murals which adorned Driemond, a large country house near Weesp that belonged to the merchant Adolph Visser (parts are now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich).
Today he has developed an international reputation with his vigorous canvases and is represented in many museums, including in the Rijksmuseum; the Historisch Museum, Amsterdam; the Alte Pinakothek, Munich; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Hermitage, St Petersburg; the National Gallery, London.