After 35+ years working and raising our family, my DH and I are finally on the European tour we’ve always talked about, leaving our muddy valley in the capable hands of our live-in farmhand.
In typical crazy chicken lady fashion, I’ve kept an eye out for chicken-related art as we’ve made our way through England, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy and now Hungary and Germany.
I’ve only found two artists, Jan Steen and Melchior de Hondecoeter – both Dutchmen – who painted chickens. Hondecoeter in particular focused on birds. At the time he painted his Eagles Attacking Chickens (below) in 1673, critics said he “…displays the maternity of the hen with as much tenderness and feeling as Raphael the maternity of Madonnas.”
I agree, and I’ve seen lots of Raphaels lately.
Now hanging in the Louvre in Paris, Hondecoeter’s scene blew me away. The mama hen’s fury, the chicks’ panic, the rooster’s bravery; it’s all quite wonderful. Zoom in to see what I mean.
I have a Jan Steen print “The Poultry Yard”, 1660, at home, and as with all his work, there’s lots going on.
Steen didn’t specialize in birds like Hondecoeter, he took a humorous look at daily life. His paintings are lively to the point of chaos and lustfulness, so much that “a Jan Steen household”, meaning a messy scene, became a Dutch proverb of the time. His paintings included chickens because every household had them.
In the Rijks Museum, in Amsterdam, I found some chicken porcelain and pottery, decorative and lovely, but dead somehow; it doesn’t tell a story like Hondecoeter’s masterpiece or Steen’s slices of daily life.
We have more museums to see still, the British Museum in London is on our list for sure and maybe more. Hopefully I will find another Hondecoeter or two, or even discover another chicken-appreciating artist.
It’s been a great trip so far, and a long break from farm chores too. But I will be glad to get back to my muddy little valley next month, where I shall sit beside a cozy winter fire and remember all the sights, sounds, smells and scenery of our old world tour.