From 09 February to 22 May 2016
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Melchior de Hondecoeter was born in Utrecht in 1636 into a family of painters of Flemish origin, among whom his grandfather was the landscape painter Gillis de Hondecoeter. Melchior began his studies with his father, Gijsbert de Hondecoeter, and following the latter’s death in 1653 continued his training with his uncle Jan Baptist Weenix, from whom he derived the Italianate and decorative aspects of his style. Between 1659 and 1663 the artist is documented in The Hague, where he joined the society of painters of that city known as Pictura. In 1663 Hondecoeter moved to Amsterdam and that year married Susana Tradel, but he did not become a citizen until 1668. During these years the artist began to specialise in paintings of birds and still lifes with hunting motifs and dead game. His mature style can be related to the work of the animal and still-life painter Frans Snyders, whose paintings Hondecoeter admired and collected. From Snyders, Hondecoeter borrowed the compositional device of locating birds and other animals in the centre of the foreground with others to one side, on occasions cut off by the edge of the canvas. He used this formula throughout his career. All his compositions of this type have a wall, fence, tree or classical ruin that occupies half of the middle ground, while the remainder is occupied by a landscape. Despite repeating this formula in most of his works, his paintings reveal a degree of individuality with variations evident in the animals and birds in the foreground. He also depicted scenes in which the birds are attacked or frightened by other animals, allowing for a depiction of movement. Hondecoeter was a prolific artist and highly regarded in his own lifetime. His works were appreciated for their technical skill and decorative qualities and were much imitated by his contemporaries.