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.
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.
I would like to thank Anke van Wagenberg and Afiena van Zanten for their research on this painting.
I would like to thank Gary Graves, research scientist and curator in the Department of Vertebrate Zoology at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, for identifying the animals in this painting (correspondence, April 6, 2005, in National Gallery of Art curatorial files).
In 1774 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) saw the wall decorations that Weenix painted between 1710 and 1714 for the Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm von der Pflaz of Düsseldorf and described his impressions as follows: “What enchanted me there beyond measure were the wall decorations by Weenix. All animals that hunting can procure were lying there, well ordered, as on the dais of a large columnar hall; above them one looked into a vast landscape. To reanimate these inanimate creatures, this extraordinary man had marshaled his whole talent, and in rendering the greatest variety of animal textures: bristles, hair, feathers, antlers, claws, he had equaled and, with regard to effect, surpassed nature.” This text is quoted from Scott A. Sullivan, The Dutch Gamepiece (Montclair, NJ, 1984), 65.
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).
Jan Weenix’s early works are primarily genre scenes in Italianate settings that follow his father’s model. See Christine Schloss, “The Early Italianate Genre Paintings by Jan Weenix (ca. 1642–1719),” Oud-Holland 97 (1983): 69–97.
See Alan Chong and Wouter Kloek, Still-Life Paintings from the Netherlands 1550–1720 (Amsterdam, 1999), 198–200, no. 41. The narrative element in the Detroit painting is lacking since it has been trimmed at the left and bottom. It is, however, evident in the painting’s probable pendant, Dead Roebock, c. 1650, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (see Chong and Kloek, fig. 41b). Chong and Kloek also illustrate one of Jan Baptist Weenix’s outdoor game pieces, Landscape with a Huntsman Cutting up a Dead Deer, c. 1650 (National Gallery, London), fig. 41a.
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
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.
Erik de Jong, “‘Netherlandish Hesperides’: Garden Art in the Period of William and Mary, 1650–1702,” in "The Anglo-Dutch Garden in the Age of William and Mary," ed. John Dixon Hunt and Erik de Jong, special issue, Journal of Garden History 8, nos. 2–3 (April–September 1988): 15–40, provides an excellent overview of the appeal of country houses for Dutch aristocracy in the latter half of the seventeenth century.
Jan Weenix purchased this manor house in Vleuten, just outside of Utrecht, in 1657.
The garden of the Clingendael estate near The Hague was particularly important for incorporating French formal garden designs into Dutch traditions. This garden was constructed in the 1670s and 1680s by the owner of the estate, Philips Doublet, who was married to Susanna Huygens, Constantijn Huygens’ daughter. Doublet traveled regularly to France to study gardens with his brother-in-law, Christiaan Huygens, who worked in Paris. Huygens provided Doublet with prints after French gardens, which he used when designing his own gardens. Prince William III, impressed by Doublet’s knowledge and abilities, employed Doublet to supervise changes in the garden at Huis ten Bosch. For more information about the Clingendael estate, see “The Anglo-Dutch Garden in the Age of William and Mary,” ed. John Dixon Hunt and Erik de Jong, special issue, Journal of Garden History 8, nos. 2–3 (April–September 1988): 180–184.
See Remmet van Luttervelt, De buitenplaatsen aan de Vecht (Lochem, 1970).
The fame of the artist and the quality of the painting are stressed in M. de Bastide, Le temple des arts ou le cabinet de M. Braamcamp (Amsterdam, 1766), 88: “Ce Tableau est peint avec cet art que possédoit, comme on le sait, ce grant Artiste, dont le mérit est trop connu en ce genre de représentation, pour en parler ici.”
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.
For Prince William III and the hunt, see Scott A. Sullivan, The Dutch Gamepiece (Montclair, NJ, 1984), 35–39.
Scott A. Sullivan, The Dutch Gamepiece (Montclair, NJ, 1984), 34.
Scott A. Sullivan, The Dutch Gamepiece (Montclair, NJ, 1984), 40.
Scott A. Sullivan, “Jan Baptist Weenix: Still Life with a Dead Swan,” Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 57, no. 2 (1979): 69.
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
See, for example, Weenix’s oil sketch of A Squirrel Monkey, c. 1700 (oil on canvas, 29.9 x 25.9 cm [11 3/4 x 10 ¼ in.]), which was with the art dealer Jean-Luc Baroni, London, in 2010–2011.
Marrigje Rikken, Melchior d’Hondecoeter, Bird Painter, trans. Michael Hoyle (Amsterdam, 2008), 51.
See Weenix’s A Monkey and a Dog beside Dead Game and Fruits, with the Estate of Rijksdorp near Wassenaer in the Background, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (no. A 462), in which both the standing and the flying dove appear in different orientations.
Agnes Block (1629–1704) was a renowned cultivator of plants at her estate on the river Vecht, Vijverhof. For further information about Agnes Block, see “The Anglo-Dutch Garden in the Age of William and Mary,” ed. John Dixon Hunt and Erik de Jong, special issue, Journal of Garden History 8, nos. 2–3 (April–September 1988): 121–122.
In his early genre scenes Weenix occasionally incorporated Italian sculptures that he found either in his father’s paintings or in prints; see Christine Schloss, “The Early Italianate Genre Paintings by Jan Weenix (ca. 1642–1719),” Oud-Holland 97 (1983): 76–77. Specific borrowings from prints of garden designs or garden sculpture, however, have yet to be identified in his later game pieces. For the type of French prints that Weenix could have seen, see “The Anglo-Dutch Garden in the Age of William and Mary,” ed. John Dixon Hunt and Erik de Jong, special issue, Journal of Garden History 8, nos. 2–3 (April–September 1988).
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
As Jaap Bolten has noted in correspondence to Afiena van Zanten (August 6, 2007), no exact prototype from Bloemaert is known, but the style and disposition of the figures in the Holy Family are entirely in the manner of this Utrecht master.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
Gerret Braamcamp [1699-1771], Amsterdam, by 1752; (his estate sale, Philippe van der Schley, Amsterdam, 31 July 1771 and days following, no. 257); John Hope [1737-1784], Amsterdam; his estate, Amsterdam and London; by inheritance to his youngest son, Henry Philip Hope [1774-1839], London; by inheritance to his nephew, Henry Thomas Hope [1808-1862], London and Deepdene, near Dorking, Surrey; 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. (Galerie Charles Brunner, Paris), by 1923. Mme G. Brière, 1928. acquired c. 1930 by private collection, Paris; by descent in this family; (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).
- 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.
- Hoet, Gerard. Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen. 2 vols. The Hague, 1752: 2:511.
- Bastide, Jean François de. Le temple des arts ou le cabinet de M. Braamcamp. Amsterdam, 1766: 88.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hoet, Gerard. Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen. 3 vols. Reprint of 1752 ed. with supplement by Pieter Terwesten, 1770. Soest, 1976: 2:511.
- Niemeijer, J. W. "De kunstverzameling van John Hope (1737–1784)." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 32 (1981): 148, 203, no. 292.
- Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. Translated by Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake. Facsimile edition of London 1854. London, 2003: 2:124.
- 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.
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 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.
 Infrared reflectography was performed using a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with a K astronomy filter.
Related IconClass Terms
- symbols and prefigurations
- symbols and prefigurations of Virgin Mary
- classical antiquity
- country house
- French garden
- spoils of the hunt
- artist +Jan Baptist Weenix + influence of
- Historical person +Prince William III
- etc. +Flanders + influence of