after Melchior d'Hondecoeter, Peacock, Peahen, Cockerel and Hens

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All rights reserved)


Country House
Peacock, Peahen, Cockerel and Hens
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 89 cm, Overall width: 103 cm
after Melchior d'Hondecoeter (1636-1695)
Catalogue Number


This picture of a cluster of birds is typical of the work of the Dutch painter Melchior d'Hondecoeter (1636–1695). Hondecoeter was the last of a family of landscape and animal painters in Utrecht and trained with his uncle, Jan Baptiste Weenix. Hondecoeter painted popular still lifes of dead game, but he is most famous as the leading master of the fashionable genre of vogelstuk – the living bird piece. Keeping exotic animals was costly, so paintings that displayed them became a status symbol, even if the owners did not in fact have a menagerie.1 While his predecessors painted static birds in a landscape, Hondecoeter breathed life into his subjects, giving them realistic, often complex poses. His assortments of wild native and exotic birds interact with one another in carefully choreographed tableaux set in a variety of locations, from farmyards, courtyards and parks to expensive-looking gardens. Occasionally he added other animals to the mix, such as a small dog. These encounters between animals range from benign to more aggressive confrontations, each canvas presenting a snapshot of an unfolding drama.

Hondecoeter did not always sign or date his works, and his pictures were frequently copied and imitated, so it is difficult to reconstruct his stylistic development.2 Numerous works attributed to him can be found in British private and public collections, including the Royal Collection (RCIN 405354 and RCIN 402785) and National Gallery (NG1222 and NG202). A number of expanded versions of the Trewithen composition featuring a peacock, peahen, cockerel and hens exist: see, for example a version attributed to the circle of Hondecoeter sold at Christie’s on 14 April 2011 (fig. 1) and a dated original by Hondecoeter in the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg (fig. 2). Hondecoeter made ad vivum sketches of the animals he painted, and a drawing of the peacock and peahen of this composition survives in the Rijksmuseum (fig. 3).3

undated. Oil on canvas, 32.2 × 157.7 cm. Private Collection.

Figure 1.
After Melchior d’Hondecoeter, Peacocks, a Rooster Pigeons, a Swallow and Other Birds in a Landscape, undated. Oil on canvas, 32.2 × 157.7 cm. Private Collection.

Digital image courtesy of Christie’s. (All rights reserved)

1686. Oil on canvas, 135 × 155 cm. State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg (GE-10).

Figure 2.
Melchior d’Hondecoeter, Birds in a Park, 1686. Oil on canvas, 135 × 155 cm. State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg (GE-10).

Digital image courtesy of State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. (All rights reserved)

1646. Chalk on paper, 37.1 × 31.3 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam RP-T-1960-82(R).

Figure 3.
Melchior d’Hondecoeter, Two Peacocks, 1646. Chalk on paper, 37.1 × 31.3 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam RP-T-1960-82(R).

Digital image courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. (Public domain)

The present work, currently in the Library at Trewithen, was recorded in the 1829 inventory as being displayed with TN77 in the Anteroom (‘2 pictures Poultry’ and ‘valued at £4’). A century later, according to the 1928 inventory, it was displayed on the Middle Staircase (‘M. de Hondecoeter 1636–1695 – peacock and other birds – 36in by 46in’).

by Emily Burns


  1. Willem de Roij and Benjamin Meyer-Krahmer, Melchior d’Hondecoeter 1636–1695, Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and Dusseldorf: Feymedia, 2010, p. 7.

  2. Ibid., p. 9.

  3. The drawing and corresponding painted composition are discussed in Marrigje Rikken, Melchior d’Hondecoeter Vogelschilder, Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum; Nieuw Amsterdam, 2008, pp. 52–3, figs 43, 44 and 45.


Related catalogue items from Trewithen

  • Castle Howard Trewithen

    ? Mary Hawkins

    British School

  • Castle Howard Trewithen

    Figure on a Country Lane

    Hendrik Pieter Koekkoek

  • Castle Howard Trewithen

    Landscape with Cattle and Seated Figures

    Henricus Josephus Antonissen