Woman feeding a parrot was, until recently, among the most celebrated treasures of the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal, recognized for decades as one of Caspar Netscher's greatest paintings and one of the undisputed icons of Dutch genre painting of the Golden Age. "Unquestionably," wrote Marjorie Wieseman in her catalogue raisonné of the artist's paintings, this "sumptuous" work is "one of Netscher's masterpieces."
Best-known today as a painter of exquisite, highly finished domestic interiors, Caspar Netscher in fact produced surprisingly few before abandoning the genre altogether around 1670 for the more lucrative field of portraiture. A Dutch painter of German origin, Netscher was probably born in Heidelberg in 1639. He trained first in Arnhem under Hendrik Coster, a little known still-life and portrait painter, before moving in 1654 to Deventer, where he entered the workshop of the greatest genre painter of the day, Gerard ter Borch. Netscher quickly learned Ter Borch's technique of rendering the texture of costly materials, and he is known to have made very successful copies of his master's most recent works: a signed copy of Ter Borch's Parental Admonition (1654; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), dated 1655, is in Schloss Friedenstein, Gotha, for example. That such works were allowed to be fully signed by Netscher suggests the special place he held in his master's studio.
After completing his training around 1659, Netscher set off for Italy, but never got further than Bordeaux where, on 25 November 1659 he married Margaretha Godijn, the daughter of a Walloon protestant émigré. He and his bride soon moved to The Hague, where Netscher joined the local painters' guild on 25 October 1662. During his earliest years in The Hague, he painted mostly genre scenes of low-life subjects in the manner of Ter Borch, such as The Kitchen (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), but by the middle of the decade, his palette began to lighten and his manner became more refined as he introduced elegant subject matter and settings into his paintings. Opulent interiors with expensively dressed gentlefolk are increasingly found in works such as the Gathering of Musicians (1666; Gemäldegalerie, Alte Meister, Dresden), where the fine rendering of silks and brocades reveal the increasing influence on his works of the 'fine painters' (fijnschilders) of the Leiden School, especially Gerrit Dou and Frans van Mieris. Looking to Dou's example, Netscher began to paint genre scenes with half-length figures in a niche or arched window over a sculpted frieze, such as Boys Blowing Bubbles (1670; National Gallery, London) and Woman feeding a Parrot.
The present painting is one of Netscher's most delightful and seductive creations. A beautiful and opulently dressed young woman stands behind an arched, trompe-l'oeil stone window niche holding a parrot she is about to feed. She has just removed the bird from its cage (the door swings open), which sits on the window ledge. A heavy burgundy damask curtain is pulled back to reveal a page boy in the shadowed room behind her, holding a silver salver with the parrot's treats on it. A costly Turkey carpet tumbles over the ledge, obscuring a carved inscription on the wall below.
The extraordinary fineness of the painting's execution - the superlative and meticulously rendered still life elements of the birdcage and carpet, the sumptuous silk and lace of the young woman's gown, the remarkable array of textures, from her milky flesh and shimmering hair, to the parrot's carefully delineated, multicolored feathers, and the cool, carved stone of the façade - show the strong influence of the Leiden 'fijnschilders', especially Van Mieris, but so too does the painting's subject matter. A woman feeding a parrot was a popular motif in Dutch painting from around 1660, and comparable images can be found in works by Van Mieris (Private collection, England and National Gallery, London), Gabriel Metsu (Pushkin Museum Moscow), Arie de Vois (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), Godfried Schalcken (present whereabouts unknown) and Gerard Dou (formerly Gagarin collection, St. Petersburg), among others. Peter Sutton and others have noted that parrots were exotic and expensive pets, and ownership of one connoted fashionableness and privilege, the bird's gaudy plumage reiterating the vain preoccupations and extravagant dress of the women who owned them.
As Wieseman observes, the birds were often associated with luxury and sensuality, and "their central role in scenes of women holding or feeding parrots hints at amorous or erotic elements." Moreover, she adds, "a bird freed from its cage - in Netscher's painting, lured away with a bit of sweet - was often a symbol of lost virginity, and was associated with an invitation to amorous dalliance," a reading that seems hard to dispute in light of our young lady's coquettish but bold and inviting gaze. Interestingly, Wayne Franits has cited instances in which "the presence of parrots...signifies the proper training of their mistresses."
A superb preparatory drawing for the painting, in pen and bistre wash over black chalk underdrawing, is in the British Museum (no. 0.0.II-250; fig.1). The drawing, which was in the collection of Gabriel Huquier in Paris in the 18th century, is fully signed and dated 1666. Like his teacher Ter Borch, Netscher was an active draftsman and about 45 sheets from his hand survive. As with the study for Woman feeding a parrot, most of his drawings are modelli or compositional designs.
Nothing is known of the painting's earliest ownership, but it is probably the picture recorded in 1694 in the inventory of the estate of Pierre Plongeron, the chamberlain to the Elector Palatinate in The Hague. It is almost certainly the "fille avec un perroquet" that Dézallier d'Argenville mentions having seen in the Düsseldorf residence of Johan Wilhelm von den Paltz (d. 1716), the Elector Palatinate, in his Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres, published between 1745-1752. Many copies of the painting are recorded, on both panel and canvas, none believed to be autograph; the best known copy is a panel acquired in 1741 for Augustus III, Elector of Saxony, and now in the collections of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden. "The elegant sensitivity and accomplished technique" of the present painting, Wieseman notes, "is underscored by comparing the original with the numerous copies, most of which achieve nothing more than caricature."
Caspar Netscher, Young woman with a parrot, 1666, The British Museum, London, © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Woman feeding a parrot
Oil on panel
Please note that this painting has been requested for the exhibition, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, which is being organized by Dr. Adriaan Waiboer, Dr. Arthur Wheelock, and Dr. Blaise Ducos, to be held at the Louvre, Paris, the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington from February 2017-January 2018.
PROPERTY RESTITUTED TO THE HEIRS OF HUGO AND ELISABETH ANDRIESSE
Signed and dated 'CNetscher. Ao. 16.66.' (CN linked) (lower left)
By A.H. Payne.
Lithographed by J. Fertig.
Caspar Netscher , 17th Century, Paintings, board/panel, oil, Germany, Netherlands, Old Master, birds, portrait, trompe l'oeil
Dieren, Firma D. Katz, Tentoonstelling van belangrijke 16e en 17e eeuwsche hollandsche childerijen, 1937, no. 56.
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Catalogus schilderijen, teekeningen en beeldhouwwerken uit particuliere Nederlandsche verzamlingen, December 1938-January 1939, no. 24.
Old Master & British Paintings
18 1/8 x 14 5/8 in. (46 x 37 cm.)
J. van Gool, De Nieuwe Schouburg der Nederlantsche Kunstschilders en Schilderessen, The Hague, 1750-1751 (reprinted 1971), II, p. 562.
A.J.D. d'Argenville, Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres, Paris, 1762, III, p. 56.
J.-B. Descamps, La Vie des Peintres Flamands, Allemands, et Hollandais, Paris, 1753-1763, III, p. 84.
J.A. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of teh Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Paintings, London, 1829-1842, IV, p. 161, no. 53.
G. Parthey, Deutscher Bildersaal: Verzeichniss der in Deutschland vorhandenen Ölbilder verstorbene Maler aller Schulen, Berlin, 1863-1864, II, p. 189, no. 33.
Katalog der Gemäldesammlung, Alte Pinakhotek, Munich, 1904, pp. 300-301, no. 1399.
A. von Wurzbach, Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon, Vienna, 1910, II, p. 228.
C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, London, 1908-1927, no. 137, 397a.
Katalog der Älteren Pinakothek zu München, Munich, 1930, no. 417.
50 Jahre Städlisches Museum Wuppertal, 1902-1952, Städtisches Museum Wuppertal, 1952, pp. 4, 31, fig. 3.
A. Pigler, Barockthemen. Eine Auswahl von Verzeichnissen zur Ikonographie des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts, Budapest, 1974, II, p. 536.
F.W. Robinson, Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667): A Study of His Place in Dutch Genre Painting of the Golden Age, New York, 1974, p. 94, fig. 229.
G. Aust, Das Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal, Recklinghausen, 1977, p. 10, fig. 26.
Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Braunschweig, 1979, p. 18.
P. Sutton et al., Masters of seventeenth-century Dutch genre painting, exh. cat., Philadelphia, 1984, p. xlvi, fig. 73.
Niederländische Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts aus dem Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Wuppertal, 1985, pp. 60-61, no. 659.
E.J. Sluijter et al., Leidse Fijnschilders: van Gerrit Dou tot Frans van Mieres de Jonge 1630-1760, Zwolle, 1988, pp. 253, 255.
O. Ydema, Carpets and their datings in Netherlandish paintings, 1540-1700, Zutphen, 1991, p. 168.
M.E. Wieseman, Caspar Netscher and Late Seventeenth-century Dutch Painting, Doornspijk, 2002, p. 207, no. 54, colorplate 10.
(Probably) Pierre Plongeron, The Hague (chamberlain to Elector Palatinate + 1694; inventory of his estate, 27.IX1694: 'een vroutien op peneel met papegaai op de hant, van Netsger').
Johan Wilhelm II (1658-1716), Elector Palatine, Düsseldorf.
Mannheim Gallery, until 1799.
Alte Pinakothek, Munich, by 1833, inv. 1399, until 1936.
with Julius Böhler, Munich, 1936.
with Katz, Dieren, 1937.
Hugo Andriesse, Brussels;
Deposited with the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1939;
Confiscated following the German occupation by the Einsatztab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR no. HA 9);
Transferred to the Jeu de Paume, Paris, March 12, 1942;
Acquired for Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering, March 20, 1944 (RM no. 1203);
Transferred to the Bunker Kurfrst, Potsdam.
with Galerie Abels, Cologne, 1950.
Rudolf Ziersch, Wuppertal, by whom given to the Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal, 1952 (inv. 659).
Restituted to the heirs of Hugo and Elisabeth Andriesse, 2014