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Authors, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Jan Weenix/Still Life with Swan and Game before a Country Estate/c. 1685,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/129265 (accessed November 19, 2017).

 

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Overview

The setting for this large and imposing game piece is an imaginary formal garden similar to those associated with patrician estates being built in the Netherlands in the latter part of the seventeenth century. Jan Weenix has used a large plinth decorated with a relief sculpture as the backdrop for an array of game and fruit. Weenix's proficiency in rendering materials and textures is particularly evident in the feathers of the goose and the fur of the hare. This still life has distinct Christian connotations related to death and resurrection. The relief sculpture on the plinth represents the Holy Family, with the Christ Child asleep just below the rose, a flower symbolizing the Virgin’s sorrows. The calendula, too, carries associations with death (its Dutch name, dodenbloem, means "death flower"). The startled dove flying away from the goose relates symbolically to the release of the soul after death. In conceiving this iconography, Weenix probably followed the specific wishes of a patron.

Weenix, one of the finest and most celebrated Dutch game painters, was probably taught by his father, Jan Baptist Weenix (1621–1660/1661), who specialized in Italianate campagnas and harbor scenes. Weenix's works are distinguished from those of his father by their more elegant figures, subtler coloring, and refined brushwork. After 1680 Weenix specialized in elegant still lifes of dead game birds, flowers, and statuary, which he painted for the Amsterdam elite. From about 1702 to 1714, the artist served as court painter to the Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm von der Pflaz in Düsseldorf.

Entry

This imposing game piece features the lifeless bodies of a large white goose and a reddish-brown hare arrayed with an almost aristocratic elegance in the left foreground of an expansive formal garden.[1] In addition to being larger than other pictorial elements, the goose and the hare are also more brilliantly illuminated and rendered with extraordinary care and sensitivity.[2] Indeed, the goose’s downy feathers and the hare’s soft fur seem so real that one could imagine their supple forms yielding to the touch.[3] Weenix extended the sweeping flow of their large bodies across the foreground and enlivened the scene with a confrontational exchange between a dove and a small dog (a papillon). The dove, standing before the dead game, has sharply turned its head and thrown back its wings in defiant response to the dog’s sudden intrusion (and barking?), while the dog reacts defensively to the dove’s angry posture. As though startled by the sudden commotion below, another dove flies aloft in the evening sky.

Jan Weenix learned the art of painting game pieces in the 1650s and 1660s in the studio of his father, Jan Baptist Weenix (1621–1660/1661).[4] Following a Flemish tradition established by Frans Snyders (Flemish, 1579 - 1657), Weenix’s father generally situated his game pieces, including the large Still Life with a Dead Swan in Detroit [fig. 1], in interior settings, often animating his scenes with narrative elements such as snarling cats and dogs.[5] When Jan Weenix moved to Amsterdam in the late 1670s, he developed a new genre of game piece that features dead game gracefully arrayed before formal outdoor gardens.

The National Gallery of Art’s work is neither signed nor dated, but Weenix probably painted it in the mid-1680s. The general disposition of dead game in the foreground of a formal garden, the delicacy of touch in rendering the fur, and even the position of the hare’s upper body (in reverse) are comparable to Weenix’s Still Life with a Dead Hare, 1682 (or 1683), in Karlsruhe [fig. 2]. By the 1690s Weenix’s style had changed noticeably: his compositions became more complex, the poses of the animals more mannered, his modeling slicker, and his touch somewhat harder.

Weenix painted his game pieces at a time when wealthy Dutch burghers were building country houses with formal gardens outside of urban centers, such as those along the river Vecht.[6] Many of his patrons came from Amsterdam and Utrecht, near the manor house Huis ter Mey where the artist used to live with his father.[7] As is reflected in Still Life with Goose and Game before a Country Estate, French architectural and garden designs were greatly admired in the latter half of the seventeenth century, and their influence is seen in the country homes and richly decorated gardens constructed by the Dutch in that period.[8] Sumptuous villas with elegant gardens containing sculptures, reflecting pools, follies, and trellises were precisely the types of estates that called for Weenix’s game pieces, although many of these paintings were also commissioned for the owners’ urban homes.[9] Although it is not known for whom Weenix painted the Gallery’s work, the Amsterdam merchant Gerret Braamcamp, whose internationally renowned collection included numerous masterpieces of Dutch art, acquired it in the middle of the eighteenth century.[10] Subsequently, it was bought by John Hope, in whose family it remained for five generations (see Provenance).

Prince William III (1650–1702) was passionate about both hunting and gardening at his estates in Dieren, Soestdijk, and Apeldoorn, and an admirer of French fashion and garden design, inspiring a number of his courtiers to follow suit during the 1670s and 1680s.[11] Nevertheless, as Scott Sullivan has convincingly argued, most of Weenix’s Dutch patrons were not aristocrats—of which there were few in the Dutch Republic—but rather wealthy burghers, who were actually prohibited from hunting game such as wild geese, ducks, and swans.[12] Indeed, no guns, nets, or other hunting paraphernalia, other than a knife made from a deer antler, are depicted in Still Life with Goose and Game before a Country Estate. Such paintings, whether displayed in country houses or urban dwellings, allowed burghers to associate themselves with an aristocratic lifestyle and to enhance their own social prestige.[13] As Sullivan has stressed, these works were not “mementos of the aristocratic hunter’s catch.”[14]

Little is known about Weenix’s painting techniques and working procedures. Judging from his accurate depictions of animals, which have allowed zoologists to identify specific species, he must have carefully studied their anatomy and the appearance of their fur and feathers. Because identical animals appear in different paintings—the papillon in the Gallery’s painting, for example, is also seen at the far right of Weenix’s portrait of Agnes Block and her family [fig. 3]—it is probable that he based his images of animals on drawings or oil sketches made from life.[15] Like Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1636–1695), another master of the game piece genre during this period, Weenix seemingly worked, at least in part, from stuffed birds and animals, which would have enabled him to depict them from different angles.[16] The angry dove, with wings outspread, for example, appears from different points of view in other of Weenix’s paintings.[17] Although Weenix occasionally represented actual garden settings, as in the background of his portrait of Agnes Block and her family, most of the gardens he depicted were imaginary.[18] He probably based many of the sculpted urns, plinths, fountains, and trellises in his paintings on prints of French and Italian gardens and garden ornaments, which were readily available in the Dutch Republic at that time.[19]

Weenix generally based the sculptural imagery in his game pieces on classical prototypes. The Gallery’s painting, however, is unusual, if not unique, in that the relief sculpture on the large foreground plinth depicts the Holy Family. The sunlit portion of the relief reveals Mary and Joseph gazing down in quiet reverence at the Christ Child lying before them in deep shadow. The style and character of these figures owe much to Abraham Bloemaert (Dutch, 1566 - 1651), an artist whose work Weenix would have known from his years in Utrecht (Bloemaert was also his father’s master).[20] Weenix intended this game piece to express Christian ideas about death and resurrection, as is evident from the disposition of the Holy Family on the relief sculpture, the pattern of light and dark falling across the figures, and the emblematic associations of the flowers growing in front of the plinth: drooping yellow calendula, known as the “death flower” (dodenbloem) in Dutch, and roses, which symbolize the sorrows of the Virgin. In this context, the dove flying away from the dead goose is not just a narrative element enlivening the scene, but an essential iconographic motif symbolizing the Christian belief in the immortality of the soul.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014

Provenance

Gerret Braamcamp [1699-1771], Amsterdam, by 1752;[1] (his estate sale, Philippe van der Schley, Amsterdam, 31 July 1771 and days following, no. 257); John Hope [1737-1784], Amsterdam;[2] his estate, Amsterdam and London; by inheritance to his youngest son, Henry Philip Hope [1774-1839], London;[3] by inheritance to his nephew, Henry Thomas Hope [1808-1862], London and Deepdene, near Dorking, Surrey;[4] by inheritance to his widow, Adèle Bichat Hope [d. 1884], London and Deepdene; by inheritance to her grandson, Henry Francis Hope Pelham-Clinton-Hope, 8th duke of Newcastle-under-Lyme [1866-1941], London, Deepdene, and Clumber Park, Nottingham.[5] (Galerie Charles Brunner, Paris), by 1923.[6] Mme G. Brière, 1928. acquired c. 1930 by private collection, Paris; by descent in this family;[7] (sale, Sotheby's, New York, 23 January 2003, no. 21, as A Still Life of Game by a Stone Monument, including, a Swan, a Hare, Game Birds, a Spaniel, a Jay and a Pigeon in Flight, an Extensive Water Garden Beyond, bought in); purchased 10 March 2004 by NGA by private contract with (Sotheby's).

Exhibition History
1891
Pictures of the Dutch and Flemish Schools lent to the South Kensington Museum by Lord Francis Pelham-Clinton-Hope, South Kensington Museum, London, 1891, no. 46.
Bibliography
1752
Hoet, Gerard. Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen. 2 vols. The Hague, 1752: 2:511.
1766
Bastide, Jean François de. Le temple des arts ou le cabinet de M. Braamcamp. Amsterdam, 1766: 88.
1795
Catalogue B of pictures in the house No. 1 the corner of Harley Street, belonging to Mr. Henry Hope, on which is ensured ten thousand pounds. London, 1795: unpaginated.
1824
Westmacott, C.M. British Galleries of Painting and Sculpture Comprising a General Historical and Critical Catalogue with Separate Notices of Every Work of Fine Art in the Principal Collections. London, 1824: 237.
1854
Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of the Chief Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Illuminated Mss.. 3 vols. Translated by Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake. London, 1854: 2:124.
1961
Bille, Clara. De Tempel der Kunst of Het Kabinet van den Heer Braamcamp. 2 vols. Amsterdam, 1961: 1:33, 64, 65, 81, 106, repro.; 2:62-62a, 128, no. 257.
1976
Hoet, Gerard. Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen. 3 vols. Reprint of 1752 ed. with supplement by Pieter Terwesten, 1770. Soest, 1976: 2:511.
1981
Niemeijer, J. W. "De kunstverzameling van John Hope (1737–1784)." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 32 (1981): 148, 203, no. 292.
2003
Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. Translated by Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake. Facsimile edition of London 1854. London, 2003: 2:124.
2004
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "Jan Weenix, Still Life with Swan and Game before a Country Estate" National Gallery of Art Bulletin, no. 32 (Fall 2004): 18, repro.
Technical Summary

The painting was executed on a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric, which has been lined. The tacking margins have been removed but the X-radiographs show cusping along all four edges. The ground appears to be a thin, reddish-brown layer. Infrared reflectography at 2.0 – 2.5 microns[1] reveals a brushy underpainting marking the contours of some of the birds and animals. Such contours are especially noticeable in the hare, the large dead duck lying next to the hare, the dove, and the small ducks in the background near the statue.

The paint was applied wet-into-wet and is fairly thin. In some areas of the background the artist left the ground visible to serve as the mid-tones of the painting. In other areas, he only applied a glazelike layer of paint, allowing the ground to show through. Weenix employed some slight impasto in the highlights and to represent the coagulated blood near the hare and the goose. Examination with infrared reflectography revealed, in addition to the underdrawing, a number of artist’s changes: the dove in the sky was shifted up and to the right; the head of the rock dove in the foreground was moved to the right, as were the goose’s bill and the hare’s head.

The painting is in very good condition. The paint exhibits a fine craquelure pattern that is hardly visible from normal viewing distances. Some traction crackle exists in the darkest darks, and several of these areas have been abraded. Examination under ultraviolet light reveals that the dark areas in the trees and along the path in the background, as well as in the base of the statue on the right, have been reinforced. The varnish is somewhat glossy and uneven and it is not saturating some of the darks well.

 

[1] Infrared reflectography was performed using a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with a K astronomy filter.

Related IconClass Terms
11D14
symbols and prefigurations
11F15
symbols and prefigurations of Virgin Mary
23T23
classical antiquity
25F26
hare
25F36
goose
25F39
dove
25G41
calendula
34B11
dog
41A161
country house
41A636
French garden
43C111261
hare-hunting
43C113
spoils of the hunt
46A131
burghers
47F13
models
48A91
classicism
48B
artist +Jan Baptist Weenix + influence of
48C2
relief
61B2
Historical person +Prince William III
61D
etc. +Flanders + influence of