(Utrecht 1636 - Amsterdam 1695)
Laid down on an old mount, inscribed Melchior, / HONDEKOTER within a cartouche.
205 x 315 mm. (8 1/8 x 12 3/8 in.)
Watermark: Two lions rampant flanking a coat of arms.
The Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus) appears in many of Hondecoeter’s paintings. Kearney notes that ‘This bird was kept at the royal menageries and was viewed as the epitome of elegance and grace, often depicted by the artist perched on a classical plinth or urn in an Italianate garden...They were certainly painted for their beauty and elegance, apart from any literary or symbolic references and they appear on numerous occasions in de Hondecoeter’s work.’ This rare and exotic species – imported into Holland by the ships of the VOC, the Dutch East India Company - was particularly popular with wealthy Amsterdam citizens, serving to ornament the gardens of their country estates, where they were allowed to roam free. As Walter Liedtke has pointed out, ‘Hondecoeter turned curiosities of nature into curiosities of art, and…into elements of interior decoration. However, contemporary interest in and knowledge of the variety of nature should not be underestimated. Even the peacock, which served as a symbol of pride in much earlier Netherlandish pictures, would have been recognized immediately as a creature from another continent, in this case southeastern Asia and the East Indies. In the confines of a room hung with paintings by Hondecoeter, it was easy to imagine not only the great outdoors of the Dutch countryside but also the entire world of Dutch overseas trade.’
This fine sheet is one the very few drawings by Hondecoeter which appear to have been produced as a preparatory study for a painting. The same peacock seen in this drawing, striding to the left, is found in a signed painting by Hondecoeter of A Monkey, Peacock and Other Birds, datable to the decade of the 1660s, which appeared at auction in London in 1995. A very similar peacock is also found in a large painting of Birds in a Park of 1686, in the collection of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
Among the few other extant drawings of peacocks by Hondecoeter is a similar pen and wash study of a single bird in the collection of the British Museum. Peacocks also appear in a finished watercolour of Two Peacocks, Five Chickens and a Parrot in the Albertina in Vienna, and in a watercolour composition of a peacock with several other birds in the British Museum, of which two autograph variants are known; one in the Klassik Stiftung Weimar in Weimar and another, formerly in the Goll van Franckenstein collection, which was sold at auction in 2016. A red chalk study of two peacocks, in the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, has long been regarded as autograph, but has recently been downgraded to the work of a pupil or follower of the artist.