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Gillis Claesz. De Hondecoeter (Mechelen? c. 1575 – 1638 Amsterdam)

Gillis Claesz. De Hondecoeter (Mechelen? c. 1575 – 1638 Amsterdam)

The Garden of Eden
Signed with monogram and dated (l.l.): GHDH / A 1635
Oil on panel
38 x 56 ½”
Condition: Fine condition (see full condition report).
Provenance: With the Kunstsalon Abels, Hohenstaufenring, Cologne
(label on the reverse), from whom purchased by an American
private collector in the early 1950s, and by descent to the
present owners.

Gillis de Hondecoeter, the father of the painter Gijsbert and grandfather of Melchior de Hondecoeter, was a landscape painter working in Utrecht and Amsterdam who followed in the footsteps of artists such as Roelant Savery and Jan ‘Velvet’ Brueghel and, like them, introduced groups of exotic and domestic animals into his landscapes. Many of these animals originated from the Dutch colonies and inspired Gillis to paint similar scenes of landscapes crowded with all manner of birds and animals. In some works both domesticated and wild animals and birds are shown side by side, in a manner in which they would never be found in nature. The subject matter generally required large numbers of animals to be included, such as Paradise, Noah’s Ark or Orpheus, but the human figures were generally relegated to the background, prominence being given to the animals and birds in the foreground and middle distance. It was thus clear that the main objective of the painting was to depict many species of fauna in a naturalistic landscape, and the biblical or mythological theme provided a reason for doing so.

This painting is a superb example of Gillis de Hondecoeter’s mature style, clearly reflecting the major impact Roelant Savery’s art had on his work. It is a typical later work by Gillis, given the sophistication of the birds and the naturalistic style and suggestion of movement, painted when the artist was living in Amsterdam, where he died in 1638. The horses on the right, as well as the camel, are strongly reminiscent of Savery’s work, most particularly a painting signed and dated 1624.  The bird on the right is a blue and gold macaw, originating from Brazil, the monkey is a South African Vervet Monkey, and in the right foreground is a pair of African Crowned Cranes. Gillis also painted a paradise landscape with a similar compositional structure to the present painting (formerly Galerie Mullenmeister, Solingen) in which the cattle again appear, as do swans and other water birds in the lower left corner and centre foreground.  He also sometimes included the Dodo as can be seen here.

Another painting by Gillis de Hondecoeter, signed in monogram and dated 1624 (Centraal Museum, Utrecht, inv. no. 5347), depicting Orpheus charming the Animals, shows some similar creatures such as the pelicans, cattle and the horse with a very long, flowing mane. These elements were employed earlier by Jan Brueghel in his Animals entering Noah’s Ark (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) to create a colourful and dramatic scene enlivened by many kinds of creatures. The well-known work of collaboration between Rubens and Brueghel of Paradise (The Mauritshuis, The Hague), dating from around 1617, also shows a wide variety of fauna, including many species of birds, a horse and camels. Those were undoubtedly the prototypes used by Gillis de Hondecoeter in his later paintings, in which the animals are more magnified and occupy the foreground rather than merely ‘furnishing’ the landscape.

This painting is a superb quality example of the work of this progressive and highly sophisticated painter about whom little has been written to date. I am preparing a catalogue raisonné alongside a catalogue raisonné of the work of his grandson Melchior de Hondecoeter.

Joy Kearney

Private collection, The Netherlands; Roelant Savery in seiner Zeit (1576-1639), Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, 1985, p. 138, no. 51.
Ibid., p. 174, no. 85.

Item ID: WoA-C/E-OP 011

Price available upon request

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