Jan Griffier I

A Turkey and other Fowl in a Park

1710

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1146 x 1390 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1985
Reference
T04129

Summary

Decorative painting of this kind was intended to be set into panelling above doors and chimney pieces, a fashion that was at its height towards the end of the seventeenth century but which continued into the early eighteenth. Such canvases were usually devised as simple, eye-catching compositions. Landscapes, ruins, flowers and fruit were common subjects. Such pictures were designed, like this one, to be seen from below. Most painters working in this genre in England came from the Netherlands: Griffier trained in Amsterdam and settled as a decorative and landscape painter in London soon after 1666. He was the first of at least three members of his family to settle in Britain. Although he returned to Holland around 1695 and stayed for about a decade, he died at his house at Millbank, Westminster. That he was sufficiently domiciled to anglicise his name, as in this case, to 'John', indicates that this painting was executed in England, although it is not known whether it was intended for a specific interior.

The unlikely setting and assemblage of birds is typical of the fanciful subject matter of these kinds of paintings. Of the birds represented here, the black kite hovering over the decorative domestic fowl on a formal terrace is the only one then native to Britain; the others are all ornamental varieties introduced from abroad. At left are a common turkey and a female domestic fowl with two frightened chicks. On the minuscule pond are a white ornamental duck and an Egyptian goose (a member of the shelduck family) with five ducklings. The male domestic fowl on the parapet is probably an ornamental Polish variety, and the parakeet flapping its wings on the urn was probably an introduction from America. The landscape beyond the terrace affords a glimpse of classical buildings and a formal flower-bed laid out around a circular basin.

Further reading:
Ellis K. Waterhouse, A Dictionary of British 18th Century Painters, Woodbridge, Suffolk 1981, p.150, reproduced
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1988, p.70, reproduced

Terry Riggs
February 1998

Display caption

This was designed as a piece of decoration. Such pictures were often set into panelling above doors and chimney pieces, and were meant to be seen from below.

Perhaps it is significant that among the birds shown here only the hovering black kite is native to Britain. All the other birds are imported ornamental varieties. Does this apparently decorative painting suggest an expanding world view?

Gallery label, March 2011

Catalogue entry

John Griffier the Elder 1646 or 52-1718

T04129 A Turkey and Other Fowl in a Park 1710

Oil on canvas 1146 x 1390 (45 1/8 x 54 3/4)
Inscribed 'John | ·GRIFFIER | 1710' b.l. on rock
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1985
Prov: ...; anon. sale, Christie's 5 November 1965 (16, rept.) £525 bt Leger; anon. sale, Christie's 16 May 1969 (164) £399 bt in; bt from Leger by the Hon. James Rollo 1975 and offered by him Sotheby's 10 July 1985 (73, repr. in col.) bt in, offered again Sotheby's 30 October 1985 (5, repr.) £4,600 bt Leggatt for Tate Gallery
Lit: E.K. Waterhouse, A Dictionary of British 18th Century Painters, 1981, p.150, repr.

This is a good representative piece of the kind of decorative painting meant to be set into panelling above doors and chimney pieces, a fashion that was at its height towards the end of the seventeenth century but continued into the early eighteenth. Such canvases were usually devised as simple, eyecatching compositions - landscapes, ruins, flowers and fruit were equally favoured subjects - and designed, like this, to be seen from below. Most painters working in this genre in England came from the Netherlands: Jan or Joannes Griffier the elder hailed from Leiden and settled as a decorative and landscape painter (the Tate also owns his 'View of Hampton Court Palace', T00408) in London soon after 1666, the first of at least three members of his family to do so. Although he returned to the Netherlands for long periods a number of times, he died at his house on Millbank, Westminster in 1718 and was sufficiently domiciled to anglicise his name, as in this case, to 'John'. This makes it clear that the painting was executed in England, although it has not been possible to establish so far if it was intended for a specific interior.

The unlikely setting and assemblage of birds reflects the fact that paintings of this type were usually entirely fanciful in their subject matter. Of the birds represented here, the black kite hovering over the decorative domestic fowl on a formal terrace is the only one then native to Britain (it no longer is); the others are all ornamental varieties introduced from abroad. From left to right these are a common turkey and a female domestic fowl with two frightened chicks; on the miniscule pond are a white ornamental duck and an Egyptian goose (a member of the shelduck family) with five ducklings; the male domestic fowl on the parapet is probably an ornamental Polish variety, and the parakeet flapping its wings on the urn was probably an introduction from America. The landscape beyond the terrace affords a glimpse of classical buildings and a formal parterre laid out around a circular basin.

The compiler would like to thank Edward Mayer for help in identifying the birds.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, p.70


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