Paris 1686 - 1755 Beauvais
A Young Rabbit and Partridge Hung by the Feet
Signed and dated lower right: J. B. Oudry / 1751
Oil on canvas
21 15/16 x 18 1/4 in. (55.8 x 46.3 cm)
Mrs. F. F. Prentiss Fund and Special Acquisitions Fund, 1982
Late in his career, Jean-Baptiste Oudry painted several striking still lifes of dead game hung before a light, neutral background. Deceptively simple, these "white ground" paintings are both masterpieces of artful illusionism and demonstrations of the academic principles of relative color.
Young Rabbit and Partridge Hung by the Feet, dated 1751, is a simple yet remarkably commanding illusionistic still life from Oudry's late period (1739-54). The painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1751, where it may have formed a pendant to a now-lost painting of a jay and an oriole hung by the feet.1 Contemporary critics praised the artist's achievement of both spatial and tactile illusion:2
[in] the "white ground" [painting] that Oudry exhibited...those partridges seemed at least a half a foot distant from the background...
The partridge is so fluffy, and so natural, that I would have liked to pluck out its feathers to see whether the skin was as soft as its covering. The rabbit hair feels marvelously resilient, and the total effect of the piece is better than anything in its genre the Italian masters have produced
Oudry painted several compositions of this type--trompe l'oeil images of dead game hanging against a light, neutral backdrop--between 1739 and 1753. The paintings range in size and intent, from small easel paintings on copper like the Golden Plover Hung by the Foot of 1750,3 to larger works commissioned expressly as decorative pieces. An example of the latter type is the Still Life with Dead Game, Pâté, Bottles, Fruits and Cheese, dated 1743 (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), which was certainly intended to be installed over a sideboard in a dining room.4 Each of these so-called "white ground" still lifes share the same meticulous attention to the recreation of texture, spatial illusionism, and subtle and sophisticated color harmonies that characterize the Oberlin painting.
This series of paintings is preceded in the artist's oeuvre by a handful of simple, illusionistic still lifes of dead birds with insects and other objects painted in 1712-13, which are among the earliest paintings by the artist.5 Their common artistic roots lie in Netherlandish still-life painting of the previous century, as transmitted via the tutelage of Oudry's master, the Flemish-trained Nicolas de Largillierre (1656-1746).6 Opperman has hypothesized that Oudry may have been prompted to return to the subject matter explored during his apprenticeship and earliest career by lectures he delivered at the Académie Royale beginning in 1739, and his two academic discourses of 1749 and 1752.7 In these lectures, Oudry acknowledged and expanded upon the practical lessons of his master Largillierre in illusionism and the imitation of nature, and in the relative (rather than absolute) qualities of hue and value in color.8
Oudry's masterful white-on-white composition, The White Duck of 1753,9 is the most explicit illustration of these academic principles, but each of his "white ground" paintings is a pointed exercise in illusionism and pure color harmonies. As Opperman has demonstrated, despite their inherent decorative beauty, these simple arrangements of game and other objects before a light, neutral backdrop should also be viewed as "conceptualizations about art and illusion," rhetorical, academic statements about the principles of human perception and the interaction of colors in the creation of perceivable form.10
Oudry's Young Rabbit and Partridge Hung by the Feet is an audaciously spare composition: there is no imposed structure or framing device within the composition to visually anchor the suspended game; and no contrasting colors in the background to enhance or complement the subtle intensities of the varied greys and browns that form both pelt and plumage. It is a mark of the artist's extraordinary skill that the painting succeeds simultaneously as a work of art and illusionism, and as a demonstration of academic principles.
M. E. Wieseman
Jean-Baptiste Oudry was born in Paris on 17 March 1686. He studied with the painter Michel Serre in 1704, then beginning in about 1705/7 served a five-year apprenticeship with the portraitist Nicolas de Largillierre (1656-1746). Oudry was accepted into the Académie de Saint-Luc in 1708 and elected a professor there in 1717. In the same year (1717) he was accepted into the Académie Royale, where he qualified as a full member in 1719, was made adjunct professor in 1739, and full professor in 1743. Oudry served as head of the tapestry manufacture at Beauvais from 1734, and at Gobelins from 1748. He received many prestigious commissions for both easel paintings and decorative pieces from (among others) the King of Denmark, the Duke of Mecklenberg at Schwerin, and Louis XV of France. Oudry was an extraordinarily prolific painter, tapestry designer, and illustrator, and exhibited regularly at the Paris Salon between 1725 and 1753. With François Desportes (1661-1743), he was probably the foremost painter of hunting scenes and still lifes of dead game in France during the eighteenth century, but also painted portraits, pure landscapes, and genre and history paintings. Oudry painted little after suffering a stroke in 1754, and died at Beauvais in 1755. His son Jacques-Charles (1722/23-1778) was also a painter of hunting scenes and still lifes.
Opperman, Hal. J.-B. Oudry 1686-1755. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1983.
With Paul Cailleux, Paris (1932)
With Bensimon, Inc., New York
Collection Mr. and Mrs. André Meyer (by 1962)
Sale Meyer, New York (Sotheby's), 22 October 1980, lot 10
With H. Schickman Gallery, New York, from whom purchased in 1982
Paris, Salon du Louvre, 1751. Cat. no. 23.
Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Salon des Arts Ménagers, 1932. Exhibition rétrospective du décor de la table et de la salle à manger. 28 January - 14 February. Cat. no. 175.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 1962. Exhibition of the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. André Meyer. 9 June - 8 July. Cat. no. 13.
Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, 1982-83. J.-B. Oudry 1686-1755. 2 October - 3 January 1983. Cat. no. 151.
D'Agoty, Gautier. "Sur les Tableaux exposés dans le Salon du Louvre, au mois d'Août 1751." In Observations sur l'histoire naturelle, sur la physique et sur la peinture, vol. 1 (Paris, 1752), p. 44 (reprinted in Observations sur la peinture et sur les tableaux anciens et modernes, vol. 1 [Paris, 1753], p. 62).
Guiffrey, J. J., ed. Collection des livrets des anciennes expositions... exposition de 1751. Paris, 1869, p. 21, no. 23.
Locquin, Jean. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre de Jean Baptiste Oudry peintre du roi (1686-1755). Archives de l'art français, n.s., vol. 6 (Paris, 1912), p. 19, no. 91 ("Gibier mort, un lapereau et une perdrix grise pendus par les pattes").
Opperman, Hal N. Jean-Baptiste Oudry. Vol. 1. New York and London, 1977, pp. 202, 558, cat. no. P522.
Opperman, Hal N. In J.-B. Oudry 1686-1755. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1983, pp. 264, 266-67, cat. no. 151.
Opperman, Hal N. "J.-B. Oudry's Partridge and Young Rabbit Hung by the Feet." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 42, no. 2 (1987-88), pp. 46-59.
The original canvas is covered by a grey ground, probably applied in several thin layers. Brushworking is apparent throughout the paint layer, but there are only a few areas of low impasto. It appears that the figures of the two animals were painted directly on the dark ground, and the white background was then added around them. Fine details were created by overlapping the white background over the figures, or by adding darker details such as fur or whiskers over the white background. The painting is in very good condition, with minimal retouching of the paint surface, mainly at the edges of the canvas and along stretcher bar creases.
1. See Hal Opperman, "J.-B. Oudry's Partridge and Young Rabbit Hung by the Feet," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 42, no. 2 (1987-88), p. 47.
2. [Pierre Estève], Lettre à un ami sur l'exposition des tableaux faites dans le grand sallon [sic] du Louvre, le 25. août 1753, pp. 8-11; and Gautier d'Agoty, "Sur les tableaux exposés dans le Salon du Louvre, au mois d'Août 1751," in Observations sur l'histoire naturelle, sur la physique et sur la peinture, vol. 1 (Paris, 1752), p. 44 (reprinted in Observations sur la peinture et sur les tableaux anciens et modernes, vol. 1 [Paris, 1753], p. 62): "il représente un Lapereau & une Perdrix grise, pendue par les pattes: la Perdrix est si douillette & si naturelle, que j'en aurois volontiers arraché les plumes, pour voir si la chair répondoit à la douceur du sourtout. Le Lapereau est moëlleux, il ressent le poil à merveille, & le tout ensemble fait un morceau dans son genre, au-dessus de tout ce que l'on nous vante des Maîtres d'Italie." Both are cited (in translation) in Hal Opperman, "J.-B. Oudry's Partridge and Young Rabbit Hung by the Feet," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 42, no. 2 (1987-88), p. 55.
3. Oil on copper, 19 x 15 cm, Paris, private collection; reproduced in Hal Opperman, "J.-B. Oudry's Partridge and Young Rabbit Hung by the Feet," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 42, no. 2 (1987-88), p. 51, fig. 7.
4. Oil on canvas, 117 x 124.5 cm, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (Mildred Anna Williams Collection), inv. 1956.91. See Hal Opperman, "J.-B. Oudry's Partridge and Young Rabbit Hung by the Feet," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 42, no. 2 (1987-88), p. 51 and fig. 9; and Pierre Rosenberg and Marion C. Stewart, French Paintings 1500-1825: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (San Francisco, 1987), pp. 237-40.
5. See J.-B. Oudry 1686-1755 (exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1983), cat. nos. 1-3.
6. Among Dutch painters, compare works by Jacobus Biltius, Hendrick de Fromantiou, Melchior d'Hondecoeter, and Jan Baptist Weenix, among others; see Scott A. Sullivan, The Dutch Gamepiece (Ottowa and Montclair, N.J., 1984), pp. 68-72. On Oudry's relationship to Largillierre see Hal N. Opperman, "Largillierre et son élève, Jean-Baptiste Oudry," in Largillierre, portraitiste du dix-huitième siècle (exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts, Montreal, 1981), pp. 310-39, esp. pp. 318-19 (on still lifes).
7. Hal Opperman, "J.-B. Oudry's Partridge and Young Rabbit Hung by the Feet," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 42, no. 2 (1987-88), pp. 52-53.
8. Hal Opperman, "J.-B. Oudry's Partridge and Young Rabbit Hung by the Feet," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 42, no. 2 (1987-88), pp. 52-53, 55; also idem, in J.-B. Oudry 1686-1755 (exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1983), p. 270. Oudry's discourse on relative color, "Réflexions sur la manière d'étudier la couleur en comparant les object les uns avec les autres," delivered at the Académie royale on 7 June 1749, is published in E. Piot, Cabinet de l'amateur et de l'antiquitaire, vol. 3 (Paris, 1844), pp. 33-52, esp. pp. 38-39.
9. Oil on canvas, 98 x 64 cm, Norfolk, collection Marquis of Cholmondeley, Houghton Hall; see Hal N. Opperman, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, vol. 1 (New York and London, 1977), pp. 557-60, cat. no. P524; and J.-B. Oudry 1686-1755 (exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1983), pp. 267-70, under cat. no. 152.
10. Hal Opperman, "J.-B. Oudry's Partridge and Young Rabbit Hung by the Feet," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 42, no. 2 (1987-88), p. 55.