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